The Law Society said there was no evidence to support the proposed changes
The Law Society said proposed changes to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) rules and codes of conduct on ‘welfare and unfair treatment at work’ and ‘health and fitness to practice’ could require lawyers to provide confidential medical information to their employers and the SRA, and to have conditions imposed on their certificates of practice at any time.
The SRA has launched a consultation in March which closed today (May 27). He said the purpose of the consultation was to clarify his approach to the appropriate treatment of co-workers and health and fitness to practice.
On welfare and unfair treatment at work, the SRA proposed:
- In Codes of Conduct, adding an explicit obligation for individuals and companies to treat colleagues fairly and with respect, and not to intimidate, harass or unfairly discriminate against them; and
- Require companies and individuals to challenge behaviors that do not meet this standard, to foster a collegial approach and a culture in which bad behavior is not tolerated.
With respect to medical condition and fitness to practice, the SRA has proposed two changes to the rules to “clarify that fitness to practice as a lawyer means the ability to both perform the work of ‘a lawyer and to fulfill the obligations of a regulated professional’. It said: “If someone is not fit to fulfill these obligations because of health problems or for any other reason, he is not fit to practice. Our proposals will also make it clear that we can take action to address these health issues at any time when they arise.”
She proposed an amendment to Rule 2 of the Fitness Rules to allow the SRA to consider medical conditions that present a regulatory risk, when admitted as a solicitor.
It also proposed an amendment to Article 7.2 of its Regulation on the authorization of persons. Following the amendment, if any, the SRA may refuse to issue a Certificate of Practice (PC) or grant registration as a European or foreign lawyer, or impose conditions on a PC or a registration, to address concerns about fitness to practice on health grounds. It can impose conditions on the person:
- follow the treatment recommendations of an appropriate healthcare professional;
- work under the supervision of a senior counsel;
- limit their practice to a certain area or function.
The conditions would be reviewed annually upon renewal and could also be reviewed at any time at the request of the person or at the initiative of the SRA. Conditions could be changed or waived if medical evidence shows that the risk managed by the conditions has been successfully addressed.
He said that where conditions have been imposed in response to a medical condition that negatively affects the individual’s ability to participate in a disciplinary process, the lifting of conditions may result in the disciplinary process being resumed if appropriate.
Law Society President I. Stephanie Boyce said, “We share the SRA’s desire to support a healthy profession where everyone enjoys respect and dignity. However, we oppose the need to introduce additional regulation to achieve this.
“The current principles of the SRA cover the duty of lawyers to act with integrity, to maintain public confidence in the profession and to encourage equality, diversity and inclusion.
“We do not believe that the SRA has provided sufficient evidence to justify the introduction of additional regulatory requirements.”
Boyce said the Law Society would like to see more guidance and communications to highlight good practices, particularly around speaking up and challenging behaviors in the workplace. She added: ‘The advice should be sensitive to the difficulty some people have in speaking up, such as junior employees or members of a minority.’
Regarding proposals dealing with health issues that may affect the way a lawyer provides services to clients, Boyce said the Law Society opposes them: “They are unclear, lack transparency and are at high risk of being used in a broader way than was covered by the consultation – suggesting that they would primarily be used with an individual’s ability to engage in application processes.
“The proposed new rules could see lawyers place conditions on their practicing certificates at all times, they could be required to provide confidential medical information, and this could have a ripple effect on employers’ attitudes towards lawyers. persons concerned.
“Given these risks, the SRA should have a strong body of evidence to introduce this proposal, which it does not.”
Boyce concluded, “The Law Society’s offer to work with the SRA on this issue stands. Lawyers engaged in regulatory work have a thorough knowledge of the issues raised by the SRA and the Disabled Lawyers Division should be involved in any proposal that may affect their members.
The Bar Association’s full response to the consultation is available here.