SRA Interventions – How to avoid them, how to appeal

Andrew Blatt frequently advises practitioners on SRA interventions, including handling voluntary practice closures. Clients say: “He’s very experienced, highly knowledgeable and empathetic.” Chambers UK 2018

Is the firm at risk of an SRA Intervention?

The SRA has wide powers to intervene into firms, for example, if they suspect dishonesty, determine that there has been a breach of rules, or decide that it’s necessary to protect clients.

You may be given advance notice of an intention to ask the SRA Adjudication Panel to consider a recommendation to intervene, but equally such notice may not be given.

If the issue being investigated suggests a systemic risk, intervention will be considered by the SRA. It’s important to bear the risk in mind when dealing with the SRA. Your response to SRA communications may well determine whether the SRA considers it necessary to intervene.

How can I avoid intervention?

There are a number of ways of avoiding an intervention. The earlier that legal advice is taken, the greater the likelihood of avoiding intervention.  We’ll be able to accurately assess the risk of intervention, and advise on the steps to take, including;

  • Addressing the underlying issues;
  • Satisfying the SRA that intervention is not necessary; and
  • Considering voluntary practice closure/restructure/disposal.

What are my options if the SRA has already intervened?

If the SRA has already intervened, you have 8 days from service of its notice that it has resolved to intervene, to apply to court for an order directing the SRA to withdraw the notice. 48 hours’ notice of your intention to appeal must be given to the SRA.

Even if there are merits on the application, unless a stay of execution has been obtained, by the time you are heard in the Chancery division, the practice will very likely have already died.

As a legal challenge is unlikely to be commercial, early advice is key.

Consequences of intervention

The office and clients accounts will already have been frozen before you know of the intervention. The money in those accounts will vest in the SRA. As the office account vests too, it’s important that you have other funds available to meet your ongoing liabilities.

Practising Certificates are usually suspended upon intervention. An application is required to lift that suspension.

The SRA is entitled to recover its costs upon intervention from those named in the notice (the firm, partners and former partners) as a debt. The SRA invariably instructs a firm of solicitors to act as its’ intervention agent. The agent’s costs are then passed on to you. These costs can be significant, in the tens, or even hundreds of thousands of pounds, depending upon the size of the undertaking.

Your conduct will almost invariably be referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

Your professional indemnity insurer is likely to look closely at the SRA’s findings to determine whether it is able to decline cover.

Why choose us?

Our many years’ experience of representing firms and individual solicitors enables us to accurately assess the risk and give you the best advice how to avoid it. The SRA intervenes when it feels that it has no other option. We understand how to give the SRA different options.

Sometimes our involvement in the supervision of the firm can help convince the SRA not to intervene.

Case example :

In 2017, we were instructed by a firm notified by the SRA that it was at risk of intervention. Upon making representations to the SRA on behalf of the firm at risk, including detailing Murdochs’ supervision of the firm, the SRA decided not to intervene. Here’s an extract of the SRA’s decision of July 2017 :

‘As you will know, we are focused on protecting clients, former clients, beneficiaries of any trusts and the wider public interest.  We will always take targeted protective steps if there is a risk to money, files or other assets of clients or beneficiaries.   Intervention is not a Draconian step but a step we take when there are statutory grounds and it is necessary in the public interest to intervene.  I have considered very carefully your representations, the progress already made in respect of an managed closure and the personal oversight that you intend to have over the remaining aspects of the firm’s closure…I have decided that any potential future risk in this particular matter are sufficiently well managed by your continued hands on involvement such that a referral to the Adjudication Panel is not required at the moment.’

If you want us on your team, e-mail or speak to Andrew Blatt on 07973 752498 or Robert Forman on 07976 562236.

Murdochs Solicitors is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. SRA number 52683. The professional rules governing our lawyers can be found at rules.sra.org.uk. Copyright © 2011, Murdochs.