SRA Interventions

What does an SRA intervention mean?

The SRA has the power (under schedule 1 of the Solicitors Act 1974) to conduct an SRA Intervention in the practice of a firm or an individual. When the SRA intervene, they (or their agents) take over the running of the practice. The effects of an intervention are dire for firms, principals and all employees of the Firm.

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What are the grounds for an SRA Intervention?

The grounds for an intervention are at a relatively low level and are found at Schedule 1 of the Solicitors Act 1974. In summary, they are:

- Dishonesty by a solicitor, employee or personal representative of a deceased solicitor in connection with the practice or any trust of which he was a trustee;
- Undue delay on the part of the personal representatives of the deceased’s sole practitioner;
- Failure to comply with rules made;
- A solicitor being bankrupt or entering the compositional arrangement with his creditors;
- A solicitor committed to prison in civil or criminal proceedings;
- Incapacity by illness or accident so as to be unable to attend practice;
- Lack of capacity (as per the Mental Capacity Act);
- Solicitor struck off or suspended
- Abandonment of a practice by a sole practitioner;
- Incapacity of a sole practitioner by reason of age so as to be unable to attend to the practice;
- Acting as a sole practitioner within 18 months of an intervention being exercised;
- Practising without a practising certificate;
- Breach of any condition relating to approved practice.

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The Court’s decision is a two-stage process. First, it must decide whether the grounds …. are made out;……. Second, if the court is so satisfied, then it must consider whether in light of all the evidence before it the intervention should continue. In deciding the second question, the Court must... carry out a balancing exercise between the need and the public interest to protect the public from dishonest solicitors and the inevitably very serious consequences to the solicitor if the intervention continues.

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Will I be given notice for an SRA intervention?

The SRA will often give notice that they are considering the use of their powers to intervene. However, there may be occasions where the SRA will intervene into a practice without giving any notice at all.

This will consist of a report prepared by a caseworker which will be asking an adjudication panel whether they should make a decision to intervene in a practice.

If you receive a report of this nature, you must obtain advice quickly. The SRA rarely agree to extensions for you to make representations against the proposed intervention and a constructive if robust reply to their report can sometimes be enough to persuade the SRA that they do not have to intervene.

Where it looks likely that the practice will be intervened, it may be possible to agree on a voluntary closure. Whilst this would not stop the cessation of the practice, it will limit the costs of the intervention and protect your reputation and the goodwill you have established with clients.

What are the signs that the SRA may be considering an intervention?

If a solicitor or firm is being investigated by the SRA there will often (but not always) be tell-tale warnings that they are considering an intervention. These can include:

- Requests for information with limited deadlines;
- Requests for details of numbers of active files;
- Requests for details of where files are archived;
- References within correspondence to schedule 1 powers.

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Can I appeal once the SRA has intervened?

It is possible to apply to the Chancery Division for a decision to intervene to be withdrawn. There is a statutory time period of eight days in which to make an application to the Chancery Division, although this can be extended in exceptional circumstances. It is therefore imperative to obtain legal advice immediately to see if you have any prospects of success.

What happens if I am intervened?

Both office and client bank accounts will be frozen by the SRA and the money in those accounts will vest in the SRA until the intervention has been finalised.

An SRA agent will attend the firm’s premises and seize all the client files and papers relating to the practice. Where computer systems are used, the SRA will either remove the computers or take mirror images of them.

Neither you nor your staff will be allowed to contact clients. Instead, the SRA, or their agents, will write to them advising them of the intervention. They will be invited to choose alternative representation.

Firms and solicitors who are intervened will also have to bear the costs of the intervention. They can be very large and it is not unusual for costs of intervention to run into the hundreds of thousands of pounds.

A decision to intervene will almost inevitably include a referral of conduct to the SDT in addition to the intervention itself.

An intervention will also result in the immediate suspension of the practising certificates of the principals of the firm as well as any individual solicitors whose practice has been intervened into. It is possible to apply for this suspension to be lifted.

What we do

Our experienced SRA solicitors can help you with if you have been intervened or if the SRA are considering an intervention by:

– Identify the dangers of intervention at an early stage;
– Responding to a Report Recommending Intervention;
– Advising you in the event you are intervened;
– Making an application to the High Court for the intervention to be stayed;
– Corresponding with the SRA if you have been intervened to secure any WIP or monies due to you;
– Represent you at in subsequent disciplinary proceedings;
– Apply for the suspension of your practising certificate to be lifted.

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