Wednesday, October 24, 2007

English Solicitors Regulation Authority denies racism accusation

Racist or not racist ? The English Solicitors Regulation Authority seems to be in a bit of a mess after being accused by a senior Police Chief of being 'institutionally racist.

The Times reports :

Solicitors Regulation Authority: we are not institutionally racist

The chief executive of the SRA says it is determined to understand why certain groups figure more highly in some areas of regulation

During the past week we have found ourselves in the firing line. Media reports have suggested that a majority of those we investigate are black or ethnic minority solicitors and we are in denial about the possibility that we are institutionally racist.

Neither of these allegations is true but there are complex and serious issues to do with regulation and race that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) are tackling.

It was our concern that more black and ethnic minority solicitors were figuring in our work that led us to examine the facts in more detail. Last year we published this initial analysis. Although the research found no evidence of deliberate discrimination, it did confirm the concern.

In some, but not all cases, solicitors from black and Asian groups were figuring more highly than expected in some areas of regulation. This disproportion was evident when we looked at the figures for interventions (when we have to close down a firm usually because of suspected dishonesty) and also the figures for the number of serious cases we sent to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, which has the ultimate power to strike off solicitors.

This analysis concluded that there was no single reason for this over-representation, but indicated that a range of possible factors may explain the situation, including the fact that black and ethnic minority solicitors are more likely to work on their own or in small firms in deprived areas where the financial challenges are more acute.

As part of our programme to overhaul the procedures that we have inherited from the old Law Society regulatory directorates, we have reviewed how we take decisions. We are making sure that they are consistent, transparent and made according to published criteria so that they can be audited. This is so our decisions can be seen as fair and made without bias.

It has never been the case that we have targeted solicitors for regulatory action based on any racial grouping. Much of our work concerns information and intelligence that comes from outside bodies. For example, banks and building societies tip us off if they suspect financial irregularities. We have now put in place systems so that this intelligence can be analysed objectively, so that we can check that we are responding in a consistent and fair way.

We also now undertake an impact analysis of our new policies so that we can ensure that equality and diversity are taken into account from the start.

But as well as looking at our internal processes, we need to work with ethnic minority solicitors to get a better understanding of why certain groups figure more highly. The background reasons for some of this disproportion look complex and some even may be beyond our control as a regulator — we are undertaking further analysis on this issue. Working together will prove the best solutions to what we should not be ashamed to acknowledge is a difficult and complex issue.

As a regulator we cannot turn a blind eye to evidence that the public are at risk; nor can we ignore our duty to behave fairly to those we regulate, and to help them to meet the standards we set. The opening words of our strategy are “In all our work we will promote equality and diversity”. I am determined that we will live up to that.

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