Friday, October 19, 2007

English solicitors regulator accused of 'institutional racism' by Police Chief

The Solicitors Regulatory Authority, the body which investigates complaints against solicitors in England & Wales, has been accused of being "institutionally racist" by a senior Police Officer.

Makes a change from being called "institutionally corrupt" ...

A sign of many problems at the SRA, where the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission planned for 2008 should be taking note ....

The Times reports :

'Institutional' racism at solicitor watchdog

A senior police officer has said that the Solicitors Regulatory Authority disproportionately investigates non-white law firms

Frances Gibb, Legal Editor of The Times

Jack Straw is facing calls for a review of the solicitors’ regulatory watchdog after allegations yesterday from black lawyers and one of Britain’s most senior black police officers that it is “institutitonally racist.”

Chief Superintendent Ali Dizaei told a meeting at the Commons yesterday that the Solicitors Regulatory Authority disproportionately investigated non-white law firms.

The figures spoke for themselves, he he told Antony Townsend, the SRA chief executive at the meeting hosted by Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee.

“What you need to do is concede the point that there is a level of activity in your organisation that is ipreating below the radar, which is racially discriminatory.

“You may be in charge of an organisation which is institutionally racist.”

Chief Superintendent Dizaei, who is also legal adviser to the National Black Police Association, called for personal assurances from Mr Townsend that he did not operate a system that was in “in denial mode but served the public, not just Henley on Thames and Gerrard’s Cross, but the public as a whole”.

He was of several speakers at the meeting of representatives of five different Muslim and black lawyers’ organisations concerned about the workings of the SRA hosted by Mr Vaz.

The MP, who has tabled an early day motion expressing “deep concern” at the dispportionate number of investigations by the SRA, is calling for a review by the Secretary of State for Justice of its policies and practices.

The widespread criticism and concern from ethnic minority law firms comes after the disclosure this week that that 62 per cent of the SRA’s investigations relates to non-white lawyers.

Mr Vaz, who said he would be leading a delegation to ministers, said there were several concerns: the first as over the delays over investigations which could last years and cost firms a huge amount of money.

The SRA “has to have the confidence not just of clients but the confidence of the profession.” That meant dealing with investigations in a timely way.

The statistics were also a cause for concern, he said. “What worries me is the disproportionate number of ethnic minority solicitors being investigated by the SRA.”

For law firms to respond to the investigations could cost “a fortune”, running to many thousand of pounds, diverting attention from the work they should be doing for clients.

Mr Townsend admitted that the figures did appear to be disproprortionate but the reasons, he said, were complex and could include, for instance, that more ethnic minority lawyers were in the small firms who statistically were more vulnerable to investigation.

The job of the SRA was to protect the public but he agreed that the job could only be done if it had the confidence of the public.

The SRA has commissioned an external consultant to assess the findings who has concluded that they did not mean that discrimination existed.

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