Solicitor Disciplinary Defence (SDT/SRA)

Solicitors and other legal professionals facing allegations of professional misconduct, particularly those referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), will be acutely aware of the potential consequences.

To reduce reputational and financial damage, or prevent loss of career and livelihood, such allegations must be taken seriously and robustly defended.

From investigations, first instance proceedings, appeals, restoration to the roll or to have practising restrictions removed or varied, our professional discipline solicitors can assist with any legal professional disciplinary matter. We are experts in the field, particularly well-known and respected for our work helping solicitors defend against allegations of professional misconduct. Notable successes before the SDT include securing the exoneration of the former Director of Legal Affairs at News International in respect of the phone-hacking scandal.

Legal Profession Disciplinary Proceedings

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) is an independent statutory tribunal, made up of solicitor and lay person members, tasked with protecting the public and maintaining the good reputation of the legal profession. If it decides (following an application by the Solicitors Regulation Authority) that there’s a case to answer, it hears and decides cases concerning allegations of professional misconduct against solicitors, registered foreign lawyers and unadmitted employees of solicitors.

Powers of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal

The SDT has a range of powers at its disposal to impose sanctions if it makes a finding of misconduct (much wider than those granted to the SRA), including large fines, suspension, the imposition of practising restrictions and conditions (on both qualified and non-qualified individuals) or the striking off a solicitor from the roll. It also has the power to award costs. It can also restore a struck-off solicitor to the roll, bring an indefinite period of suspension to an end, vary and lift restrictions, as well as review and revoke an order made in respect of an unadmitted person (also known as a section 43 order).

Solicitor Regulation Authority Prosecutions

Of the SDT’s case load, almost all prosecutions are brought by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) (applications can also be made, far less frequently, by members of the public). The SRA will only refer a case to the SDT if they determine that there is sufficient evidence (a realistic prospect that the regulated person will be found guilty of misconduct, i.e. the SDT is likely to make a finding of misconduct) and prosecution is in the public interest (if the allegations are serious and a finding of misconduct likely to result in a sanction that the SRA is not empowered to make).

The SRA’s code for referral to the SDT makes clear some public interest factors against prosecution, including:

  • Likelihood of only a nominal penalty;
  • Misconduct as a result of a genuine mistake or misunderstanding;
  • The regulated person is or was suffering significant mental or physical ill-health at the time of the misconduct; and,
  • Co-operation with the SRA and prompt redress.

Solicitor Disciplinary Tribunal Proceedings

Proceedings before the Tribunal are adversarialand decided on the criminal standard of proof – beyond reasonable doubt. Cases are heard in the Tribunal’s court rooms on the corner of Ludgate Circus in central London. Most hearings are held in public before two solicitor members and one lay member, although it is possible to apply to have the hearing (all or part of it) held in private on the grounds of exceptional hardship or prejudice. If such an application is successful, the judgment may also be anonymised, depending on the particular circumstances.

SDT Appeals & Applications for Restoration

Appeals are made to the Administrative Court at the Royal Courts of Justice and subject to strict time limits: an appeal must be lodged within 21 days from when the statement of reasons for a decision is given (usually two to seven weeks after a hearing).

Applications to be restored to the roll or to lift an indefinite suspension are distinct from appeals. They involve requesting that the SDT consider whether the applicant is now a fit and proper person. Amongst other things, the application must not be premature (only in exceptional circumstances can an applicant expect to have their name restored to the roll within six years of being struck off); and, there must be clear evidence of rehabilitation.

Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal Representation

Professional discipline law and precedent changes quickly. At Saunders Law, we stay ahead these developments and are experts in SDT practice and procedure, case law and all legal and regulatory issues relevant to professional discipline in the legal sector. We carry out highly thorough investigations to formulate defence strategies based on sound, convincing evidence and arguments. If the case proceeds to a hearing, we use highly honed advocacy skills when acting on behalf of our clients, aimed at protecting their status and livelihood.

Complaints and compensation is a matter for the Legal Ombudsman, not the SDT. If you require expert assistance with a client grievance or complaint, please contact us for more information.

Saunders Law – Specialist Effective Professional Disciplinary Advice & Assistance

At Saunders Law, our professional discipline and regulatory solicitors are highly respected experts in the legal sector. Led by partners,  James Saunders (a member of the Solicitors Assistance Scheme) and Matthew Purcell, we’re well-known for our thorough approach and for tirelessly fighting out clients’ corners.

Operating from offices in central London, we’re also ideally located to assist clients navigate through the professional regulatory and disciplinary process. For a free, no-obligation, initial discussion of how we may be able to help, please contact us.

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