The Solicitors Regulation Authority was launched on January 29 2007. It is the regulatory body for more than 100,000 solicitors in England and Wales. Its purpose is “to set, promote and secure in the public interest standards of behaviour and professional performance necessary to ensure that clients receive a good service and that the rule of law is upheld”.
New guidelines are shortly to come into force which will regulate the conduct of thousands of firms. The new code of conduct aims to:
- To start with a clear set of professional principles, from which all rules are derived
- To simplify the structure – mandatory rule followed by non-mandatory guidance
- To express a clear purpose for each rule
- To use clear and simple language
- To target risk
- To raise standards of service to clients
- To identify and maintain essential client protections
Some key changes include:
Rule 1 (regarding core duties) which replaces old Practice Rule 1 as the heart of regulatory activities. The core duties are:
- Justice and the rule of law
- Best interests of clients
- Standard of service
- Public confidence
These define the characteristics of a solicitor and act as a yardstick against which conduct can be measured.
Rule 6 addresses discrimination and equality rights. It contains provisions dealing with age discrimination, civil partnerships and paternity rights. It also clarifies the provisions relating to disability discrimination and reasonable adjustment, and changes the duties on implementing an equality and diversity policy.
Other important rules include Rule 5 dealing with business management in England and Wales. This concerns the supervision and management of a practice, and differs notably from old Practice Rule 13. It has three strands, setting out:
the responsibilities of those running the firm or in-house practice for the overall supervision and management framework of that practice;
the minimum requirements to be met in order to be “qualified to supervise”;
the minimum standards applying to the supervision of clients’ matters.