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SRA – ‘honesty’ and ‘integrity’

As solicitors will be aware, the SRA is introducing the new standards and regulations on 25 November 2019. In addition to new, separate codes of conduct for firms and solicitors, the SRA has reduced the principles from ten to seven. The SRA describes these as ‘the fundamental tenets of ethical behaviour that we expect all those that we regulate to uphold’. 
 
The principles are as follows:
 
Solicitors must act:
  1. in a way that upholds the constitutional principle of the rule of law, and the proper administration of justice;
  2. in a way that upholds public trust and confidence in the solicitor’s profession and in legal services provided by authorised persons;
  3. with independence;
  4. with honesty;
  5. with integrity;
  6. in a way that encourages equality, diversity and inclusion;
  7. in the best interests of each client. 
The 2011 code includes the obligation to act with integrity (principle 2), but some eyebrows have been raised that the SRA felt the need to require solicitors to be honest – when this is perhaps the most fundamental cornerstone of what it means to be a solicitor.
 
The SRA makes the point that while someone acting dishonestly can be said to be acting without integrity, the concept of integrity is wider than just acting dishonestly. The distinction has been brought into focus by two cases heard by the CA in 2018 in which LJ Jackson said: ‘Integrity is a broader concept than honesty. In professional codes of conduct the term “integrity” is a useful shorthand to express the higher standards which society expects from professional persons and which the professions expect from their own members’. 
 
The SRA has given examples of where they are likely to take disciplinary action for lack of integrity:
  1. Where there has been a wilful or reckless disregard of standards, rules, legal requirements and obligations or ethics, including an indifference to what the applicable provisions are or to the impacts or consequences of a breach.
  2. Where the regulated firm or individual has taken unfair advantage of clients or third parties or allowed others to do so.
  3. Where the regulated firm or individual has knowingly or recklessly caused harm or distress to another.
  4. Where clients or third parties have been misled or allowed to be misled (except where this is a result of simple error that the regulated firm or individual has corrected as soon as they became aware of it).
See www.sra.org.uk and Wingate v SRA and Malins v SRA [2018] EWCA Civ 366 (combined appeal).
 

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