Guide for people who give the SRA information about solicitors
Last updated 4 August 2010
We are very grateful to people who give us information that helps us to regulate solicitors effectively.
This guide explains what you can expect if you supply us with information, and how we will try to support you if we decide to take action and you are asked to be a witness.
How we gather evidence
When we receive information we assess the risk to the public and decide whether we should investigate. If we decide to do so, we will gather information and decide whether to take disciplinary proceedings, which may involve a hearing at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
In some cases, we may need to interview you to obtain a statement. We may be able to take a statement over the phone or it may be better for you to meet one of our investigators or lawyers. We may ask to see relevant documents so we can refer to them in your statements.
We might decide that your evidence is not needed. Perhaps we have similar evidence from a number of people and don't need to use it all. We will tell you if that is the case.
If you give us a statement, it will have to be signed and dated. We will give you a copy. It may be disclosed to other law enforcement agencies or regulators and to the lawyer or firm that we are bringing proceedings against.
Do you need extra support?
Please tell us if you have a disability, illness or condition which may affect your ability to provide evidence. We can then discuss how we might be able to support you.
For instance, you may want us to write to you in larger print or to have somebody with you when we ask you for information or documents. If English is not your first language, we might be able to provide an interpreter or translator.
Preparing the case
If the case is referred to the SDT, you will be given a named contact at the SRA and a phone number and email address. This person will answer any questions you have.
Sometimes, we are able to agree the facts in the statement and there will be no need for you to attend the SDT hearing.
If we need you to attend, you will be informed in good time. The date is set by the SDT—we try to ensure that it is convenient for you, although sometimes it can be difficult to suit everyone's needs.
Your SRA contact will advise how long the hearing is likely to take. The time allocated to the hearing will depend upon how complex the issues are.
Do you pay my expenses?
If you need hotel accommodation, we will book and pay for it. We will also book train tickets. Unless agreed otherwise in writing, train travel is standard class.
If you need to take a taxi from and to railway stations, please get a receipt so that you can claim the fare from us. Other out-of-pocket expenses are up to £7.50 for breakfast if you leave home before 7.00, £8.50 for lunch and, if you have to stay overnight, £30.00 for an evening meal. Please keep itemised and dated receipts so we can reimburse you.
As a general rule, we do not pay for time spent in preparing for and actually attending the hearing. If your employer says they will not pay you while you attend the hearing, please discuss this with us. (Special arrangements apply for professional expert witnesses.)
What happens at the hearing?
In good time, you will be sent directions to the SDT at Gate House, 1 Farringdon Street, London EC4M 7LG. (View map)
Your SRA contact or our lawyer will tell you when you need to arrive. Please go to the reception on the 3rd floor. The receptionist will put you in touch with the SRA representative and you will be shown where to wait.
While you are waiting, avoid discussing your evidence with anyone, as it is vital that your evidence is not influenced by anyone else's. You may be waiting for some time, so it's a good idea to take something to read.
Sometimes there are several cases on the same day and the case in which you are involved may not start until later in the day.
SDT hearings are usually in public. A journalist may be there. In exceptional circumstances, the hearing may be in private, so the media cannot report it.
A panel of three people will hear the case—the Chairperson, a legally qualified person and a lay person. A clerk will record what is said.
When you are called to give evidence, you will be shown to the witness desk. The Chairperson will usually introduce himself or herself and the rest of the panel to you. You will be asked whether you prefer to take a religious oath on a holy book or to make an affirmation about the truth of your evidence.
A solicitor or barrister will present the case for the SRA. He or she will ask you a few questions, but usually this will not be very detailed, because the Panel and the other party will already have seen your statement. Our witnesses are often simply asked to state their name and confirm that this is their witness statement and their signature. You might be shown a bundle of documents and asked to comment on important ones.
The lawyer, firm or other person that we are prosecuting usually has their own legal representative. Occasionally, they represent themselves. They will be entitled to ask you questions.
Do take your time when answering a question. If you haven't understood a question, ask for it to be repeated or explained. A member of the SDT panel may ask you a question to make sure they have understood you correctly.
There will be a lunch break at midday, if not earlier. If you haven't finished giving your evidence when that happens, you must not discuss it with anyone.
Once you have given your evidence, you can leave or sit at the back of the hearing room.
The Chairperson will decide when to finish the hearing. Usually the SDT finishes by 17.00, but it has been known to sit until around 18.30. Sometimes the hearing has to continue the next day.
After the Hearing
The SDT usually announces the outcome at the end of the hearing. It will say whether there has been professional misconduct and if so, whether a penalty will be imposed. This could be a reprimand, fine, suspension or striking off from the Roll of Solicitors.
We will write to you with the outcome of the hearing within two weeks of its end.
Later on, the SDT will produce a written report. If you want a copy, please let your SRA contact know and they will send you one.
If you have incurred out-of-pocket expenses, please send your receipts to your SRA contact. We suggest you keep a copy in case the originals are lost. We will try to send you a cheque within 14 days.
Last but not least, we are keen to know how you have found the experience of giving evidence at the SDT, so we can try to make things easier for witnesses in the future. If you receive a feedback form from us, please fill it in and send it to us.
Sometimes the SRA brings proceedings against solicitors and law firms in the courts. We prosecute people before the Magistrates' Court for pretending to be a solicitor when they are not.
The procedure is very similar to that relating to SDT cases. The same travel, hotel and expenses provisions apply.