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Professional Discipline Solicitor Robert Drury on Whistleblowing

Notwithstanding a solicitor’s longstanding duty to cooperate with the SRA and report serious misconduct, outcome focused regulation and the still emerging roles of the COLPs (Compliance Officer for Legal Practice) and COFAs (Compliance Officer for Finance and Administration) means that firms are, more than ever, expected to keep their own houses in order.

Since as far back as Autumn 2011 the SRA has been considering a policy, in line with other professional city regulators and enforcement agencies, of offering more lenient penalties to individuals who blow the whistle on activities which are in breach of professional rules. The idea continues to be well received by those in the Authority, especially following amendments to the FSA’s Decision Procedure and Penalties manual and Enforcement Guide to allow them to take into account the level of cooperation given when considering penalty. Finally, the SRA’s own policy on whistleblowing has recently been put to the board for its consideration and will then go to a wider consultation.

The SRA’s rationale for the policy is to encourage greater co-operation between the profession and the regulator. Credit will be given for the promptness with which the individual comes forward and the importance of the information to the case. The report states, “We would rather solicitors and others working in the legal sector provided information late than not at all. Although we cannot guarantee that we will not take any action against you, bringing the information to us is likely to help your position considerably.”

The reward for whistleblowers could range from no action being taken against them to a reduced SRA sanction. The whistle-blowing can also be taken into account as mitigation in the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal if the matter goes that far.

The SRA hope that having a transparent and available policy will provide a greater incentive to cooperate and improve the efficiency of investigations into misconduct. This in turn would increase the protection afforded to the public.

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