Wednesday 31 October 2012 by Catherine Baksi

Whistleblowers involved in misconduct will face more lenient penalties under proposals being considered by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

The regulator today launched a consultation on the introduction of co-operation agreements, under which solicitors who may have been involved in misconduct or failed to report it, but who disclose others' misconduct and help during investigations, will be given reduced sanctions.

The SRA would enter co-operation agreements with possible witnesses who might also be in regulatory difficulties. They would provide full disclosure and, if necessary, give live evidence in a court or tribunal. In return, their own conduct would be dealt with as part of the agreement.

The move, designed to encourage disclosures to the SRA, is similar to the leniency scheme adopted by the Financial Services Authority that saw calls to its whistleblowing line almost double.

The regulator believes it may improve the speed at which higher numbers of potential investigations can be dealt with.

The SRA has also published its Whistleblowers Charter, setting out its approach to receiving information about serious regulatory failure or risk from both the regulated community and members of the public.

SRA director for legal and enforcement David Middleton said: 'We anticipate cases in which potential witnesses who are worried about their own position will be more likely to come forward if there is potential certainty of regulatory outcome for them and an element of leniency consistent with the public interest.'

Middleton stressed that the proposed approach did not water down the requirement of the regulated community to report misconduct, adding: 'Respondents to investigations are already aware that the early correction of problems and co-operating generally with us can significantly mitigate any failures on their part.

'Earlier identification of problems could reduce the impact on clients and the compensation fund or insurers, so co-operation agreements would be another step forward in encouraging disclosure and co-operation.'

The consultation runs until 23 January and can be read at on the SRA website.

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