Are you facing SRA intervention?
The SRA has the statutory power to intervene into a solicitor’s practice. The powers may be exercised in relation to an individual solicitor, a number of solicitors together, or recognised body or a licensed body. Intervention powers are set out in Schedule 1 of the Solicitors Act 1974.
An intervention is arguably the most powerful weapon available to the SRA and will effectively destroy the solicitor’s practice.
Where the intervention powers are exercised based on certain grounds, such as reason to suspect dishonesty or breach of rules, the solicitors practising certificate will be suspended. The draconian effect of an intervention is justified on the basis of the risk of allowing the practice to continue would otherwise represent.
Grounds For SRA Intervention
The grounds for intervention are in summary;
- the SRA has reason to suspect dishonesty on the part of a solicitor or his employee in connection with his practice or former practice;
- undue delay, or suspicion of dishonesty, on the part of the personal representative or a deceased sole practitioner;
- that the solicitor has failed to comply with rules relating to professional practice, conduct and discipline, accounts rules and trust accounts rules or professional indemnity;
- that a solicitor has been made bankrupt or come to an arrangement with creditors;
- a solicitor has been committed to prison in any civil or criminal proceedings;
- the SRA is satisfied that a sole practitioner is incapacitated by age, illness, injury or accident, to such an extent as to be unable to run his practice;
- a solicitor lacks capacity;
- the solicitor’s name has been removed from or struck off the roll or a solicitor has been suspended from practice;
- that a solicitor has abandoned his practice;
- that the solicitor is a sole practitioner who has acted as such within the period of 18 months from a previous intervention on the basis of reason to suspect dishonesty;
- the SRA is satisfied that the person has acted as a solicitor at a time when he did not have a practising certificate in force;
- the solicitor has failed to comply with practising certificate conditions requiring him only to act as a solicitor in approved employment, approved partnership, or as an approved manager of a recognised body, or in any specified combination of those;
- that the SRA is satisfied that it is necessary to intervene in relation to a solicitor to protect the interests of clients of the solicitor or his firm, or to protect the interests of the beneficiaries of any trust of which the solicitor is or was a trustee.
The intervention powers are directed to securing possession of practice documents and money.
Challenging A SRA Intervention
If the SRA intervenes there is a statutory time period of 8 days to challenge the intervention in the High Court. The time limit is strict. The High Court may order withdrawal of the SRA’s notices in relation to both money and documents. The Court may make such order as it thinks fit.
In determining whether the intervention notice should be withdrawn the Court must weight the risk of reinstating the solicitor to his practice against potentially disastrous consequences to the solicitor if the intervention continues.
Of key importance will be the risk of withdrawal to clients and the public that the Court identifies from the evidence. A suspicion of dishonesty will always be considered a high level of risk, even if it is of a historic nature or shown to be limited to confined areas of practice.
The reality following an intervention by the SRA is that it is extremely difficult, if not all but impossible to successfully challenge an intervention.
Advice should be taken at the earliest possible stage.
Irrespective of whether a solicitor challenges an intervention, the solicitor’s practising certificate will almost invariably be suspended. An application can be made to the SRA for the suspension to be lifted.
The costs incurred as a consequence of an intervention by the SRA can be significant. The costs of the intervention are likely to be incurred by the SRA’s instruction of an appointee referred to as an “intervention agent”.
The consequences of an intervention on a solicitor cannot be overstated.
In addition to the automatic suspension of a practicing certificate, the solicitor will lose control of the firm’s bank accounts and documentation. Unless the intervention is quickly reversed by the Court, the solicitor’s practice is lost with the almost inevitable consequence of financial ruin to the solicitor.
In addition, a consequence of an intervention is likely to be the commencement of disciplinary proceedings before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
It remains important for a solicitor facing the disastrous consequences flowing from an intervention to have regard to protecting their ability to practice and seek urgent advice as to their practising certificate and/or any disciplinary proceedings.