Whistle-blowers who give evidence against colleagues suspected of misconduct may be offered a more lenient punishment for their own involvement under new Solicitors Regulation Authority guidelines. The regulator is this week expected to approve proposals to offer mitigation to witnesses who come forward.
In a report to the SRA Board, the regulator proposes entering in to 'co-operation agreements' with witnesses, even if they have had some involvement in the wrongdoing. This co-operation would then be formally recognised as mitigation and could lead to the whistle-blower having their case dropped or sanctions reduced.
The SRA will consider how promptly the witness came forward with evidence, whether they did so on their own initiative and what difference that testimony made to the investigation of serious misconduct.
The report says that some cases are difficult to prove without a witness close to, and possibly involved in, the matter. Co-operation by whistle-blowers, even at a later stage, could constitute 'serious mitigation', it says. 'We would rather solicitors and others working in the legal sector provided information late than not at all. Although we cannot guarantee that we will not take any action against you, bringing the information to us is likely to help your position considerably.'
The statements on co-operation agreements and whistleblowing have been agreed by the SRA's regulatory risk and compliance committees, while acknowledging the potential risks of incentives undermining reliability of evidence. The report asks board members for formal approval.