Roberts Jackson Successor Fined for Breaching SRA’s Transparency Rules

In edition 249 of BC Disease News (here), we reported that AWH Legal had merged with Roberts Jackson Solicitors within hours of the claimant occupational disease firm entering into administration.

On 25 September 2020, AWH Legal was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay costs of £300 for breaching Transparency Rules, established by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).[i]

Under the Regulator’s Rules, all authorised and regulated firms are obligated to display specified information on their websites if they provide certain types of legal services, so that clients can access accurate and relevant information and make informed choices when shopping for those services. These Rules have been in place since 6 December 2018 and were instigated by the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) review of the legal market, undertaken in 2016.

In the case of AWH Legal, an Outcome statement (dated 14 January 2021) revealed that the firm had failed to publish mandatory details about costs and also its complaints procedure.[ii]

This constituted breaches of Rules 1.1 and 2.1 of the Transparency Rules.

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Additional to the punitive sanction for failure to adhere to the Rules, the SRA imposed a condition upon AWH Legal’s authorisation that, within 30 days of the condition coming into effect, it should provide the Regulator with ‘reasonably satisfactory’ evidence of compliance with Rule 1.1 (see image above), which, in turn, compels compliance with Rules 1.3, 1.4 1.5 and 1.6 (see images below).

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Transparency compliance checks will continue throughout 2021, according to the SRA’s January newsletter.[iii] If the CMA’s observation of ‘clear signs of progress [with the Rules] is anything to go by (see its 2020 Progress Report),[iv] then punitive sanctions could be few and far between. In spite of apparent compliance, though, a sizeable ‘impact on the intensity of competition between providers and on sector outcomes’ is still yet to materialise.

 

[i] Neil Rose, ‘Transparency failures put three firms in the dock’ (15 January 2021 Legal Futures) <https://www.legalfutures.co.uk/latest-news/transparency-failures-put-three-firms-in-the-dock> accessed 22 January 2021.

John Hyde, ‘SRA transparency clampdown begins with action against four firms’ (14 January 2021 Law Gazette) <https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/sra-transparency-clampdown-begins-with-action-against-four-firms/5107017.article> accessed 22 January 2021.

[ii] ‘AWH Legal Limited (AWH Legal Limited)’ (14 January 2021 Solicitors Regulation Authority) <https://www.sra.org.uk/consumers/solicitor-check/627313/> accessed 22 January 2021.

[iii] SRA Update: Issue 88 – January 2021 (SRA) <https://www.sra.org.uk/sra/news/sra-update/sra-update-issue-88-january-2021/> accessed 22 January 2021.

[iv] Competition and Markets Authority, Review of the legal services market study in England and Wales’ (17 December 2020 GOV.UK) <https://www.gov.uk/cma-cases/review-of-the-legal-services-market-study-in-england-and-wales#review-report> accessed 22 January 2021.