Justice secretary Dominic Raab personally intervened to push forward plans to increase the solicitor’s watchdog’s fining powers, after MPs called for a toughening up of the regulator, to deter law firms from working for oligarchs.
The Deputy Prime Minister “sought the views” of the Law Society, Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), and Legal Services Board, whilst pushing for plans to increase the SRA’s fining powers seven-and-a-half times over, from £2,000 to £25,000, according to a ministerial response.
Raab’s intervention came as the SRA faced major pushback from law firms and industry bodies – including the Law Society – over plans to increase its maximum fines to £25,000.
The ministerial response came after Labour MP Steve Reed asked the government to outline the actions it has taken in “ensuring compliance of solicitors’ firms with the Government’s sanctions regime”.
Conservative MP James Cartlidge responded in saying Raab had intervened “with the view of enhancing the SRA’s enforcement powers to create a stronger deterrent to solicitor misconduct”.
Cartlidge said the government is also currently working to “identify tools” to assist regulators and professional bodies in their efforts to enforce the UK’s sanctions regime, while also “protecting the rule of law”.
The comments come after Conservative MP Bob Seely called on the government to “toughen up” the SRA, as he claimed that “whistleblowers working for big companies” have told him they do not do proper client checks, because they know their clients “are inherently corrupt”.
The response also comes after Liz Truss said law firms, working on behalf of oligarchs, had hindered the implementation of the UK government’s sanctions regime.
The news comes amid a worsening spat between the legal sector and the government, after UK prime minister Boris Johnson yesterday accused lawyers of “abetting the work of criminal gangs” by blocking the government’s deportation flight to Rwanda.
A Law Society spokesperson said: “We are disappointed the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is seeking to increase its fining powers by more than 1,000% without balancing these changes with the appropriate safeguards and have made our concerns clear to the Ministry of Justice.”
The Law Society said its members “have concerns about the SRA acting as investigator, prosecutor and judge, in potentially many more serious and significant cases which currently go before the independent Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT),” as it noted the SDT “already has powers to strike off solicitors for misconduct as well as unlimited fining powers.”