The Society of Black Lawyers has called for ‘wholesale reform’ of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, alleging that its decisions are biased against black and minority ethnic solicitors.
In a letter to master of the rolls Lord Neuberger, the society’s chair Peter Herbert (pictured) said: ‘We believe that several cases exist which demonstrate a clear lack of independence, impartiality and transparency at the SDT.’
Under the Solicitors Act 1974 the master of the rolls is responsible for appointing members of the tribunal.
The SBL is seeking reform of the tribunal and an urgent review of all its decisions. Herbert told the Gazette he wanted a definitive sanctions guide to be adopted by the SDT within the next six months and comprehensive academic research conducted into its sentencing practices to test for differential treatment. He also wants to see thorough diversity training and monitoring, and an open and transparent appointments system with appointees reflecting the diversity of those who appear before the tribunal.
As currently constituted, the SDT is ‘not fit for purpose’ and ‘falls far behind the quality and consistency of other regulatory tribunals’, he alleged.
The call for reform comes in the wake of the publication of the SBL’s report into allegations of discrimination at the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and its demand for a fresh enquiry into the SRA’s procedures and performance.
An SDT spokesman said: ‘The SDT deals solely with cases presented to it by the SRA and lay applicants. The tribunal is an independent, impartial decision-making body. If any party is unhappy with a decision of the tribunal it is, of course, open to them to appeal to the High Court.’
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