Details of the first fixed penalties issued by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) since introducing the new fixed financial penalty regime have been announced.
The £750 fines, which are in relation to three firms for not complying with the Transparency Rules, are for breaches that include:
- failure to publish information explaining key stages and likely timescales relating to services
- failure to publish details on experience and qualifications of those working on some, or all, of the service areas covered by the rules, and
- failure to include information on disbursement costs and VAT in published prices.
The SRA have indicated that there are other live cases which might in the future result in further fixed penalties for firms not complying with the transparency rules.
The process adopted by the SRA is that firms are sent notices of potential fines, with the opportunity to put right the issues in question. The SRA state that in many cases, the threat of penalties is resulting in firms becoming compliant and that those that continue not to comply with the rules, could potentially face a further fixed penalty of £1,500.
Paul Philip, Chief Executive of the SRA, said:
‘Compliance is clearly not optional. Our transparency rules are there to benefit the public, helping people compare law firms’ services and make informed choices. All those firms that are publishing the correct information rightly expect that we will take action against those who don’t.
‘We brought in fixed penalties so we could deal with non-complex breaches of our rules more swiftly. That saves everyone time, cost and stress. It also appears that the threat of fixed penalties is proving effective in bringing firms into compliance.’
The SRA Transparency Rules require all regulated law firms to publish price and service information relating to certain common services on their websites, or make it available offline if they do not have a website. They also require firms to publish information on complaints procedures, and to display the SRA’s clickable logo to help consumers understand the protections they get from using a regulated firm.
The SRA have indicated that fixed penalties will not only apply to the Transparency Rules – other areas where fixed penalties could be applied is in relation to mandatory anti-money laundering and diversity data returns.
The SRA have stated that when they take disciplinary action, such as fining a firm, they will publish their decision on the Solicitors Register, which enables the public to look up the record of the solicitors and law firms we regulate. The new fixed penalty regime was introduced as part of wider reforms to the issuing of financial penalties with a schedule of fixed penalties for firms of up to £1,500. These apply to a small number of lower-level breaches of the rules. However, the maximum level of fine that the SRA can now issue directly has gone up from £2,000 to £25,000 for traditional law firms.