In the Media

SRA to look again at vexed issue of race

PUBLISHED June 20, 2012

Thursday 21 June 2012 by Jonathan Rayner

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has pledged to carry out a second review of allegations of racial discrimination by the regulator against black and minority ethnic (BME) lawyers.

The first review, carried out in 2008 by Lord Ouseley, former chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, concluded that there was no institutional racism. However the study has been criticised for covering a cross-section of cases rather than focusing on those where solicitors accused the SRA of discrimination.

SRA director of inclusion Mehrunnisa Lalani gave notice of the forthcoming review in her response to a letter from Peter Herbert (pictured right), a barrister, and employment and immigration judge who chairs the Society of Black Lawyers. Lalani said that the upcoming 'comparative case file review' is to be the first since the SRA changed the way it handles discrimination claims in the light of the Ouseley review. She told the Gazette: 'We are committed to transparency - being fair and being seen to be fair. All our work is driven by the public interest.'

The review's findings will be released by 31 October. Herbert told the Gazette that a second review was required because Ouseley had not been in possession of the relevant facts. Herbert said: 'The SRA did not tell him how many discrimination actions it has faced so that he could examine them and track their outcomes. He was also not told about discrimination claims brought internally by SRA staff. For these reasons, the Ouseley review was flawed.'

Herbert said that the new review should: emulate two 2001 investigations into racism at the Crown Prosecution Service; have the full support of the attorney general and solicitor general; and be carried out by persons with 'robust attitudes towards race discrimination'.

In a separate development, Herbert acted last week for solicitor John Robinson in his High Court appeal against a 12-month suspension and £20,000 fine imposed by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT). Herbert described the suspension as 'manifestly excessive' and said the SDT had not taken into account the mitigation provided by Robinson or had due regard for his human rights. Geoffrey Williams QC, appearing for the SDT, said there was not a 'scintilla' of evidence of race discrimination and asked for the appeal to be dismissed.

Judgment was reserved and the case adjourned.