SRA Interventions: How to Avoid Them and How to Appeal
It can be stressful when the SRA want to intervene in your firm. Because your response can be crucial in its later decisions, it’s important that you understand how intervention can be avoided altogether, how to deal with the SRA when they want to intervene, and what the consequences could be.
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 that the SRA Adjudication Panel will consider a recommendation to intervene, but equally such notice may not be given.
If the issue being investigated suggests a systemic risk, or serious unremedied default, 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.
Your response to SRA communications may well determine whether the SRA considers it necessary to intervene. This makes it important to understand how you ought to deal with the SRA when they seek to intervene, so that you can mitigate any negative outcomes.
How Can I Avoid SRA Intervention?
There are a number of ways of avoiding an intervention. The earlier that legal advice is taken from SRA intervention specialists, 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.
For these outcomes to be met, it’s important that you’re proactive when approached by the SRA. Don’t waste any time and seek advice from Murdcohs Solicitors who are specialists in regulatory matters.
What To Do if the SRA Has 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
Freezing of Funds: The office and client 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: Practising Certificates are usually suspended upon intervention. An application is required to lift that suspension.
Debts and Payments: 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.
SDT Tribunal: Your conduct will almost invariably be referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
Insurance: Your professional indemnity insurer is likely to look closely at the SRA’s findings to determine whether it is able to decline cover.
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
Why choose us?
Our many years of experience of representing firms and individual solicitors enables us to accurately assess the risk and give you the best advice on 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.
Especially if you’ve acted proactively, our involvement in the supervision of the firm can sometimes help to convince the SRA not to intervene.
Robert Forman in our team is the author of The Law Society's SRA Interventions and orderly closure chapter (among many others) in The Solicitor's Handbook 2019 and The Solicitor's Handbook 2022 providing expert and definitive commentary on law and practice in the field of SRA interventions.
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:
‘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.’