Token lip service to equality and diversity is not the way to dispel allegations of institutional racism.

Hussam Hajjouk made this Freedom of Information request to Solicitors Regulation Authority as part of a batch sent to 2 authorities

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Response to this request is long overdue. By law, under all circumstances, Solicitors Regulation Authority should have responded by now (details). You can complain by requesting an internal review.

Dear Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) / Legal Service Board "LSB"

Re: Unlawful racial discrimination against Black, Asian and other ethnic minority (BAME) Solicitors who are disproportionately in the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) enforcement work

I am writing this email in response to SRA email of 6 January 2021 in which they responded to my request for internal review of my Freedom Of Information request “Line of Duty to promote the regulatory objectives” dated 9 December 2020. This is a link to the request and SRA responds.
https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/l...

The starting point to understand the issue raised about SRA's unreasnabul behavoure against BAME firms, I refer you to the Law Soucity's council paper dated 14 July 2010, page 16, SRA Expected to increase Interventions by 25%, highly speculative based around ABS introduction putting pressure on small firms, OFR having a de- stabilising effect, uncertainty around insurers, possibility of interventions becoming larger in size
http://www.legalservicesboard.org.uk/Pro...

Case Study - Wolstenholmes LLP
SRA intervened to close this firm end of December 2009. Wolstenholmes LLP is a law firm used to run by BAME solicitors, was founded in 1818. Following clients’ complaints about the practice’s conveyancing department in the firm, the Solicitors' Regulation Authority (the “SRA”) conducted an investigation which found accounting irregularities which led to an intervention and closure of the firm on 24 December 2009. The firm was formally put into administration in February 2010 alligating shortfall on the firm's clients' account, the Compensation Fund paid out more than £13m relating to more than 2,500 former clients’ claims.
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/13m-s...
The SRA stated in Paragraph 3.8 in the Compensation Arrangements Review in June 2013 that the client accounts of intervened conveyancing firm Wolstenholmes LLP revealed a shortfall of £19.8m after the SRA had intervened to close the firm. To date (June 2013), the net liability to the Compensation Fund, in respect of claims dealt with by the SRA following the closure of Wolstenholmes LLP is £7.66m.
https://www.sra.org.uk/globalassets/docu...
Gordon Ramsay, director for legal and enforcement at the SRA, said on 27 October 2014 “So far we have paid out more than £13 million from the Compensation Fund to victims of the actions of Wolstenholmes LLP
https://www.legalfutures.co.uk/latest-ne...

Page 6 of the Law Society application to the Legal Service bard for Practising Fee 2010/11- SRA declared that there is a surplus in the size of the Compensation Fund reserves amount totalling £19.6m and therefore they will retain the cost of interventions and legal fees to be covered by the Compensation Fund. Same application page 7 SRA provided a scheduled showing that they charged the compensation fund £21.7m in 2009/10 and £13.6m in 2010/11 as intervention cost.
https://www.legalservicesboard.org.uk/Pr...

Nevertheless, According to the compensation fund snapshot accounts which was published on 3 December 2015 by SRA, it's proven that the fund paid grant in total £27.101m during 2010 and recovered from the Statutory Trust Accounts (the clients' account of the closed firms) in total £31.024m, and during 2011 the compensation fund paid out as grant in total £15.161m and recovered from the STAs amount £17.568m
https://www.sra.org.uk/globalassets/docu...

It appears that during 2010/11 there was no shortfall in the clients' accounts of any firm in which the SRA intervened and closed, as the amount transferred from the statutory trust accounts to the compensation fund is greater than the amount the compensation fund paid as a grant to the clients of the closed firms, and the compensation fund did not actually lose any amount during that year or the following year. Also the dormants account of the historical closed firm were transfered to the compinastion fund.
This is link to the STA based on the available information that I gathered
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1...

The result of this irregular attack against BAME solicitors as follows:
- Mr Nasir Ilyas – undertaking accepted for 15 years on 6 June 2014;
- Mr Waseem Saddique – disqualified by court order on 10 June 2014 for 15 years;
- Mr Mario Cardinali – disqualified by court order on 10 June 2014 for 15 years;
- Mr Imran Hussain – undertaking accepted for 9 years on 4 June 2013;
- Mr Bilal Khawaja – undertaking accepted for 6 years on 13 June 2013;
- Ms Helen Murgatroyd – undertaking accepted for 5 years on 24 February 2012;
- Mr Shabbir – undertaking accepted for 5 years on 24 January 2013;
In sentencing Mr Saddique and Mr Cardinali, HHJ Bird, said:
The defendants involved themselves in a business in which members of the public are entitled to place absolute trust. That trust was abused at great cost to members of the public and at great cost to the Solicitors Regulation Authority and to the Solicitors Compensation Fund.
------------------------------------------------
I notice that SRA published on 14 December 2020 some equality and diversity data on its enforcement activities for the first time since 2014. These data strengthened my allegations on 3 December 2020 that black, Asian, and other minority ethnic (BAME) lawyers are over-represented in the SRA's enforcement processes. This link to my FOI request for internal review dated 3 December 2020
https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/l...

However, Anna Bradley, Chair of the SRA denied on 14 December 2020 the allegation of discrimination against BAME Solicitors, and justified this over-representation of BAME in all SRA sanctions, as members of "BAME" communities are over-represented in the irregularities' outcome of other regulatory bodies, and stated that the potential factors may be in wider societal problems, which is an unacceptable underlying accusation against BAME communities' reputation that even more harm than the discrimination itself. This link to Ms. Bradley accusation
https://www.sra.org.uk/sra/news/press/20...

Mr. Matthew Hill, CEO of the Legal Services Board, “LSB” celebrated what he described as “openness and leadership shown by the SRA in publishing equality, diversity and inclusion data on its enforcement activity”
https://www.legalservicesboard.org.uk/ne...
Mr. Hill, invited the public not to make assumptions about the causes of discrimination, and aided Ms. Bradley in her accusation saying those seen in some other sectors such as healthcare.

The public looking to welcome and celebrate SRA’s openness and transparency but demand information about:

[1] - Assuming no discrimination, why BAME's solicitors are not represented in the SRA's settlement agreement (3%) while they are over-represented (60%) in SRA's interventions to close firms, decisions to impose conditions on a practitioner's certificate, referrals to a tribunal and control of non-qualified staff.
This is the link that I provided SRA on 9 December 2020 with a list showed the name with link to each individual’s decisions that SRA made in the last two years
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1...

[2] - What is the percentage of practicing solicitors with BAME background, sole practitioners, solicitors working in small firms and those working in large firms out of approximately 180,000 calls and 50,000 emails that the Contact Center at SRA receives annually when a case initially raised by a member of the public or from others, reporting concerns about a solicitor or firm?

[3] -[3] - Likewise, the percentage of BAME solicitors and those working in small firms compared to those in a large ones, in the second stage of approximately 40,000 cases per year that registered with a “POL‟ reference and referred to the investigation and supervision team. Before the last stage, in which SRA stated that out of approximately 11,000 cases were referred for decision to the legal and enforcement team and BAME lawyers represented more than 25% of these stage.
-----------------------------------------
Ms. Bradley shared that they need to look at what is happening there, as now is the time to examine why they see so many more concerns about BAME solicitors being reported to them compared to what they should be in light of the profile of the profession. Ms Bradley said that since 2007 they have carried out three independent reviews of processes to ensure that they are fair and free from bias and none found evidence of discrimination in their process

What other organisations and reviewer reported on the enforcement work of the SRA:

2007- The Audit
Referring to the Annual Report and Account 2008/09 of the Legal Services Complaints Commissioner, stated in page 51that the Audit finds that SRA was inconsistent in dealing with complaints and that they were often influenced by the approach employed by firms of solicitors. This meant that the solicitor who was being complained about often determined the way in which the complaint was resolved.
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk...

2008 Working party
13 March 2008, Working party investigated the reasons for the finding that black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) solicitors are disproportionately represented in decisions made by the SRA, Solicitors Regulation Authority” The outcome never published by SRA.
https://www.sra.org.uk/globalassets/docu...
.
July 2008 - former chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, Lord Ouseley
the independent reviewer Reported that black, Asian and other minority ethnic (BAME) solicitors are over-represented in all aspects of regulation by the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (SRA), It identified “deficiencies, weaknesses and failures” in the organisation
Disproportionality is also evident in applicants for student enrolment or admission to the Roll being referred for character and suitability assessments.
https://www.sra.org.uk/globalassets/docu...

The Society of Asian Lawyers
Sundeep Bhatia Chairman of the Society of Asian Lawyers said in August 2008: the SRA has not learned the lessons of the 2006 initial impact assessment and continues to disproportionally target BAME Solicitors in all facets of its regulatory work. The SRA appears to be incapable of putting its own house in order.

The Society of Black Lawyers
Society of Black Lawyers comments in July 2008 that:We have experienced black and minority solicitors being struck off for many years. There have been many BAME solicitors who have been struck off, intervened against, placed under onerous conditions with the BAME community denied access to their chosen lawyers. The beneficiaries of these actions are a largely white bureaucracy and a few select white firms who wait ready to clean up when minority firms are closed down for whatever reason. We do not condone bad practice in minority firms however there are clearly two standards at work here.

The disproportionate rate at which BAME student applicants are turned down as being unsuitable to qualify in the first place means that white people with previous character issues are far more likely to be admitted to the solicitor’s role. There is also clear and obvious bias and racism when nationals from countries such as Nigeria seek to be admitted. City firms and those with more than 26 partners are almost left untouched with less than 10 investigations since the formation of the SRA. There is clearly a financial dynamic at work and a reluctance to challenge the powerful city firms many of whose members sit on Law Society committees.

Peter Herbert, Chair of the SBL stated that,
“This level of institutional racism seriously undermines the principle of equal access to justice for all. Not only have Black and minority solicitors faced racism and investigations but the BAME community has been denied access to the lawyers they need with white firms employed by the SRA benefiting from such interventions and closures.

August 2008 - The British Nigeria Law Forum
The British Nigeria Law Forum said on 13 August 2008 that: SRA decisions have affected a large number of Nigerian lawyers many of who have recently qualified through the QLTT or are Registered Foreign Lawyers. The special treatment given to “Magic Circle” firms is an area of great concern to BNLF. The phrase “size matters” is a constant theme throughout the report. If you are small you are targeted whereas if you are big there appears to be a presumption of innocence. We have concerns that the Law Society is not only failing to apply its resources to investigating the bigger firms but also with the fact that they also appear to receive preferential treatment.

August 2008 - The Association of Muslim Lawyers
The Association of Muslim Lawyers said on 13 August 2008 that the over-representation of BAME solicitors cannot simply be explained by the fact that more BAME solicitors are likely to become sole practitioners or to work in small firms. There is very clearly a degree of targeting of which we have received numerous complaints from our own membership. The impact that SRA investigations have on BAME solicitors who are often sole practitioners or partners in small firms cannot be underestimated. Livelihoods have been lost and lives have been affected considerably as a result of disproportionate and discriminatory actions on the part of the SRA.
https://www.sra.org.uk/globalassets/docu...

July 2009 - The Legal Services Complaints Commissioner
In July 2009, Page 47 of the annual report 2008/09, Baroness Manzoor asked the auditors to investigate how SRA had carried out its risk-based investigations;, and how it had determined outcomes in relation to the level of breach or misconduct found. the Commissioner has some concerns about variations in the outcome achieved by SRA in respect of different solicitors, the evidence supplied by SRA suggests that the reasons for these variations relate to legitimate aggravating or mitigating factors. On the basis of the information provided, the Commissioner was unable to give any assurances to stakeholders and the public that OLSCC has verified the action taken by SRA.
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk...

September 2010 - Charles River Associates’s review
The Assigned Risks Pool (ARP )
Section 5.1.3 Page 82 of Charles River Associates’s review of SRA client financial protection arrangements in September 2010 stated that in the year 2009/10, firms run by BAME solicitors represented 41% of the Assigned Risks Pool (ARP ) compared to 11% of the profession as a whole. there could be a detrimental equality impact in the event of abolishing ARP as an insurer of last resort. and stated in page 92 : changes to the ARP would be expected to particularly affect BAME firms and therefore we will have particular regard to this in considering the impact of any recommendations.
https://www.sra.org.uk/globalassets/docu...

Para 1.3 SRA decided to close down the Assigned Risks pool (ARP) as a provider of policies of qualifying insurance from 30 September 2013, despite the clear evidence of the detrimental impact on firms run by BAME solicitors
https://www.sra.org.uk/sra/consultations...

October 2011, Lord Herman Ouseley
A key finding of the review was the need for the SRA to have in place sound HRD policies and processes that would enable it to recruit the best diverse talent and to establish an inclusive culture. Key areas for concern were lack of BME representation at senior levels of the organisation, the committees and Board, lack of training on equality and diversity and a lack of leadership on equality and diversity
https://www.sra.org.uk/globalassets/docu...

2012- The Independent Complaints Resolution Service (ICRS)
ICRS – a body used to deals with complaints against the SRA which are not resolved internally. said on 12 June 2012 that the single issue that cropped up most frequently was people feeling that the SRA had failed to take seriously their allegations of misconduct against a solicitor. The number grew with the introduction of outcomes-focused regulation and a risk-based approach, which means that the SRA will not pursue a misconduct report…and warned that SRA needs to be sensitive to the perception that it is unwilling to respond to legitimate complaints, and intent on ‘looking after its own solicitors who fund the SRA
https://www.legalfutures.co.uk/latest-ne...
https://www.legalfutures.co.uk/latest-ne...

ICRS warned SRA again on 19 January 2016 that it should review its procedure for handling the compensation fund claims to “avoid any perception of bias”. The ICRS said 118 complaints were referred to it in the nine-month period between January and the end of September 2015, people were disappointed and often angered that solicitors had ‘got away with it’ and felt that the SRA was ‘on the side of solicitors’.” The ICRS suggested that the SRA should consider addressing the risk of the perception of bias. Subsequently, ICRS contract was terminated and appointed CEDR as a new independent complaint handler. CEDR found “no evidence of any actual bias or discrimination by the SRA” and did not uphold any of the 157 complaint about SRA.
https://www.legalfutures.co.uk/latest-ne...

2012 independent reviewer report by Professor Gus John
The review found evidence of disproportionality at three stages of the regulatory process, [1] namely: at the point at which a case is raised or a complaint is registered against a solicitor or a firm; [2] in the process of investigating that complaint; and [3] at the point at which an outcome is determined . Between 2009-2012 as an average, BAME solicitors made up 13% of the entire solicitor population, but during the same period they represented 25% of the ‘new conduct investigations. BAME solicitors were also subjected to more severe sanctions than their White counterparts. In the case of interventions, where the SRA took control of a solicitor’s legal practice or a firm, BAME solicitors and firms were again overrepresented. Whilst 25% of the SRA’s new investigations involved BAME solicitors, they accounted for 29% of interventions. In the case of eventual referral to the SDT, BAME cases made up 33% of the cases referred. Where conditions were attached to practising certificates, BAME cases accounted for 32%.. The figures indicate that not only was there a disproportionate number of BAME solicitors under investigation by the SRA during the period 2009-2012, but also that the eventual outcome of the SRA’s investigations ended with more severe sanctions being applied to BAME respondents.
https://www.sra.org.uk/globalassets/docu...

Yours faithfully,

Hussam Hajjouk

SRA Information Compliance, Solicitors Regulation Authority

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SRA Information Compliance, Solicitors Regulation Authority

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Hajjouk,

Please find our response to your request attached.

Yours sincerely,

Jack Baraczewski
Information Governance Officer
Solicitors Regulation Authority
The Cube, Birmingham
www.sra.org.uk

show quoted sections

Your Assessment Ref - Investigation Ref - MatterCreatedDate -:
POL/12 24 751-2018 - CDT/12 25 677-2018 - 17 Apr 2018 - -
POL/12 24 752-2018 - CDT/12 25 696-2018 - 17 Apr 2018
POL/12 24 753-2018 - CDT/12 25 687-2018 - 17 Apr 2018
POL/12 27 429-2018 - - 13 Jul 2018
POL/12 65 631-2019 - - 3 May 2019
POL/12 65 633-2019 - CDT/12 66 467-2019 - 3 May 2019
POL/12 88 895-2020 - -23 Mar 2020
POL/12 88 895-2020 - - 23 Mar 2020
POL/12 95 882-2020 - - 08 Aug 2020
LL /12 97 732-2020 - - 7 Sep 2020

Dear SRA Information Compliance,

You did not provide the information I requested, instead you responded in a way that is not in line with your commitments to openness and transparency. You responded to the question about BAME solicitors being over-represented in your regularity sanctions, albeit not represented in your settlement agreement, that you published data and information related to the profile of solicitors in your enforcement work. And you didn't recognise the numbers I quoted. As if the data you routinely publish is consistently accurate and the public should trust your accountability and transparency.

1. I did not make these numbers up, these numbers and percentages came from the data that you recently published, but I just removed the manipulation. You published data on about 30 firms which you intervened to close in 2020, 6 are for deceased solicitors, one insolvent and ten are duplicated. Ten firms of the remaining 13 are owned and run by solicitors from BAME communities. See the list that I provided with the names and link to these firms.
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1...

2. Apparently you count the Intervention to close a law firm separately from its owner, e.g. Wilson & Berry - SRA no: 059766 is owned by Asian background solicitor Rupinder Kainth, this is one intervention not two, The same situation with Octagon Solicitors Ltd - 637321 owned and run by Asian solicitor Mr. Mohammed Arshad Amin - Mayflower Law Ltd, 533320 runs and owned by black solicitor Mr. OGUNSHAKIN, Ifeolu Olumide,,, and many others in this year and previous years has been counted twice while they are one firm, and you dealt with them in one intervention
https://www.sra.org.uk/search-results/?f...

3. Eventually, duplicating the number of interventions would result in a false and unrealistic increase in the cost borne by the compensation funds. e.g. Did you intervene in the practice of 62 firms in 2010 or 40 or perhaps 56 firms? How many such interventions did you carry in 2012, 37 or 42?

4. On 24 November 2016, you responded to a FOI request saying that you intervened to close down :
2008/09 - 97 intervention
2009/10 -, 64 intervention
2010/11 - 62 intervention
2011/12 - 37 intervention
2012/13 - 47 intervention
2013/14 - 53 intervention
2015/16 - 32 intervention
https://www.dropbox.com/s/b9us7ozh1rvb3v...

5. On 22 June 2017 you published your Annual review 2015/16 and listed that you closed down in:
2008/09 - 89 intervention
2009/10 -74 intervention
2010/11 - 40 intervention
2011/12, - 42 intervention
2012/13 - 50 intervention
2013/14 - 51 intervention,
2015/16 - 37 intervention
https://www.sra.org.uk/sra/how-we-work/r...
—————————————
6. The question should be how much the compensation fund has paid for costs that were misreported or otherwise incurred for a purpose that was not the purpose for which it was intended. And how many consumers have suffered loss and hardship in violation of their rights of access to the remedies that the legislation created to compensate them for losses caused by dishonest solicitors, whilst these remedies were misused by the regulator to close down a small firm in the interests of ABS.
————————————
7. Also, You disputed that the number of complaints that you annually receive about solicitors’ misconduct is much higher than what you declared, in particular this complaint with POL Assessment references. And You say that the statistics I quoted about 180,000 calls and 50,000 emails that your Contact Centre receives annually do not relate to reports on solicitors. Perhaps you need further verification why a member of the public would contact you unless they are complaining about their solicitors or to request their paper and money which you take over after an intervention?

8. Ms Enid Rowlands, your former chair said in your 2015 annual review: We received 195,000 calls to our Contact Centre during 2015/16. Some 82,000 enquiries were from members of the public. Typically, they were contacting us to report a solicitor, ask us to validate a solicitor or to ask how they could retrieve their files from a closed firm.

9. On 14 August 2012, a written evidence from the Legal Ombudsman to Parliament stated that The Legal Ombudsman has been in place for one year, having opened in October 2010. At six months, the Ombudsman received nearly 40,000 contacts by phone, letter or email. At the end of August this was around 70,000…The people that the Legal Ombudsman cannot help are signposted to other organisations. The biggest is the SRA (47%) -
See Paragraph 2-b https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm...

10. Referring to the LSB research report “Market evaluation” Figure 94. Numbers of complaints at second tier listed that LeO received 38,155 contact in 2010/11 (6 months) accepted 3,768 complaints, 75,420 contact in 2011/12 accepted 8,420 complaints, 71,195 contact in 2012/13 accepted 8,420 complaints, 69,500 contacts in 2013/14 accepted 8,323 complaints and 64,583 contacts in 2014/15 accepted 7,631 complaints.
https://www.legalservicesboard.org.uk/wp...
-----------------
Nevertheless, if this is the real picture and allegations of solicitor misconduct are at the same level since 2010 despite eventually a doubling in the value of the legal services market, then there must be an underlying pattern of unusual and unhealthy development that will end in crisis. The extent of unfairness and irrationality in regulation across the sector is foreseen to be detrimental to consumers and the public interest.

Yours sincerely,

Hussam Hajjouk

SRA Information Compliance, Solicitors Regulation Authority

This is an automated response
Thank you for contacting the Information Governance and Compliance Team at
the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

We aim to respond to request for information under our Transparency Code
requests within 20 working days. Information on how we handle these
requests, including a copy of our Transparency Code, can be found on our
website here<http://www.sra.org.uk/sra/how-we-work/tr...>.

We will process and respond to requests under the Data Protection
Legislation ( including Subject Access Requests) within the statutory
timeframes.

This mailbox does not deal with reports about solicitors. For information
about how to report an individual or firm please see our website
here<http://www.sra.org.uk/consumers/problems...>.

 

For information on how we handle your personal data, see our [1]privacy
notice.
This email is intended for the addressee only. This includes any
attachments. Its unauthorised use, further processing, storage or copying
is not allowed. If you are not the intended recipient, please let the
sender know and then destroy all copies.
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Hussam Hajjouk left an annotation ()

Oct 2017 - The Ombudsman service: in one case, the SRA took nearly three years to conclude an investigation.
- Complainants had to wait weeks or even, in some extreme cases, months for a response.
- We identified periods in which the SRA was not taking action and other periods where evidence could have been collected sooner.
- SRA deals with many tens of thousands of contacts per year....
- Many of the complainants who contact us are unhappy that the SRA has either decided not to conduct an investigation into a report they have made about a solicitor, or they disagree with the action taken following an investigation…
- The complainant told us that the SRA had made some mistakes in correspondence – failing to sign the letter, inaccurate references to evidence and incorrectly referring the complainant to the Legal Ombudsman.
- People felt the SRA had not explained matters to their satisfaction, considered that they had not been kept informed or who alleged that it had failed to respond to correspondence or telephone calls.
https://www.sra.org.uk/globalassets/docu...