The legal profession is not for everyone; as with any occupation, there are particular characteristics which contribute to a successful career in law, and top grades at law school is not necessarily one of them. Honesty, and strong moral and ethical approach to law practice is just as important.
SRA Bans Solicitor for being ‘offensive, insulting and threatening’
There are very solid reasons why the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) demands the highest personal and professional standards of those on its Roll. Not least is the need to ensure the standing and reputation of the profession. In November 2018, the SRA took the decision to remove solicitor Luke Stephen Venton, 39, from the Roll due to three criminal convictions including possession of cannabis and possession of a knife in a public place; two crimes of which he failed to disclose to the Authority. The case was referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) which heard how, in addition to the crimes committed, Mr Venton had used abusive language towards the SRA in email correspondence, and threatening language to previous employers.
The SDT considered that Mr Venton’s misconduct was of the highest level, such that striking him off was the only course of action. In addition, he was also ordered to pay £7,000 in costs, despite having previously told the SRA he would not pay them a penny, in any circumstance.
The SRA Suitability Test
In 2011, the SRA published a new ‘Suitability Test’, which replaced the ‘guidelines on the assessment of character and suitability’. The test is used for trainee solicitors, qualified lawyers, those seeking admission as solicitors, those seeking to become ‘authorised role holders’, and those seeking restoration to the Roll of Solicitors.
The aim of the test is to ensure anyone entering into the profession possesses the necessary personal and professional characteristics needed to do so.
Specifically, the test looks at a wide range of factors on which the SRA can determine suitability including existence of any of the following:
- Serious criminal offences – likely to lead to the refusal of an application to the SRA
- Other criminal offences which have an impact on your character and suitability
- Inclusion on the Violent and Sex Offender Register – even if not convicted of a criminal offence
- Cautions for an offence involving dishonesty – which you have accepted
- Local warnings from the police
- Accepted cautions from the police
- Penalty Notices for Disorder
- Motoring offences resulting in criminal prosecution
- Cheating or dishonesty in relation to educational assessment
- Evidence of an inability to manage, avoidance of responsibility for, or dishonesty in relation to your personal finances
- Bankruptcy, individual voluntary arrangements (IVA) or County Court Judgments
When making your application for suitability to the SRA, it is incumbent on you to disclose any and all possible factors which may assist with their decision. The regulator takes a dim view of non- disclosure, treating such an action as prima facie evidence of dishonest behaviour.
In assessing your application, the SRA will look for examples of dishonest, violent, or discriminatory behaviour, misuse of position (to gain a pecuniary advantage, or that which shows lack of trustworthiness to those more vulnerable), or other examples of behaviour which cast doubt on how reliably you will discharge your duties in the legal profession.
The SRA will also look at your professional history and are likely to refuse your application if there has been a serious disciplinary undertaking or any investigation by a regulatory body into your actions. They are also likely to turn down applicants who have previously misled, breached the requirements of, been refused registration by, or failed to comply with a regulatory body.
Consideration of rehabilitation
The SRA will consider evidence of rehabilitation in relation to any of the factors which may count against your application. Each case will be determined individually based on the facts to hand, however the guiding principles will be public interest, safeguarding members of the public, and protection of the reputation of the legal industry.
According to the general evidential requirements in the SRA Assessment of Character and Suitability Rules, you will need to submit evidence of any rehabilitation which shows “you have learnt from an experience or event, such as probation reports, references from employers or tutors”, in addition to two independent referees familiar with the matter, an independent corroboration of your version of events, a statement outlining details of events leading up to the matter, and proof of disclosure of the matter to any other regulatory bodies. Beyond this, the SRA will want to see other proof relating to court matters, assessment offences or financial conduct which demonstrates your rehabilitation.
Given the high bar set by the SRA for character and suitability, while they may consider you have been sufficiently rehabilitated, this is by no means an easy process or mere formality.
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