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SDT publishes first fining bands guidance

4th Jan 2017

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has published fining bands guidance alongside detailed mitigating factors for the first time, in an attempt to help defendants establish how their case is likely to be dealt with.

The tribunal regularly reviews its approach to sanctions, but the new guidelines, which came into effect for all cases being heard after 1 January 2017, were the first to have been comprehensively considered by a specific working party.

Fine levels before the SDT are unlimited, and the new guidance provides five indicative categories ranging from up to £2,000 for ‘conduct assessed as sufficiently serious to justify a fine’ to more than £50,000 for ‘conduct assessed as significantly serious but not so serious as to result in an order for suspension or strike off’.

These new bands complement the current general approach detailed in the guidance, based on the seriousness of the misconduct and ‘the means available to an individual or a firm’. Where a solicitor can provide evidence of ‘limited means’, the fine may be reduced to reflect this.

In practice, the tribunal usually sets out the amount a solicitor would have been fined, reduced to a lower amount that takes into account evidence of means.

Last year, 42 of the 176 cases heard by the SDT resulted in fines totalling £313,250, representing an average of £7,457 per fine. The lowest was for just £1,000 and the largest £40,000.

In a separate section, the new guidance attempts to deal in more practical detail with restoration to the roll or termination of suspension; however, it was argued by SDT clerk and chief executive Susan Humble that one issueis the requirement to have been employed, preferably in a law firm or in a legal environment. Many, she commented, would contact the tribunal saying it was unrealistic to expect them to fulfil the requirement, whereas the SRA can, in certain circumstances and subject to conditions, authorise them to work in approved employment.

The guidance combines the tribunal’s current practice in respect of other sanctions such as reprimand, suspension, and strike off.