The Solicitors Regulation Authority has defended its response to COVID-19 after being accused of doing essentially nothing to help the profession.
Criticism has come from its own former executive director, Crispin Passmore, who charged the SRA with being "silent on the key issue facing us all". "No wonder some have called it tone deaf", said Passmore on his consultancy site, highlighting a number of areas in which he believed the regulator was lacking.
The SRA has posted COVID-19 FAQs which fill in some of the gaps, but others remain, including the fraught question of insurance. "As we head towards a new indemnity insurance year", said Passmore, shouldn't the SRA "be relaxing the hugely expensive and inflexible minimum terms and conditions?"
But the regulator's coronavirus advice for lawyers struggling to find affordable insurance is remarkably similar to anything any consumer is told at any time, and about as helpful. "The insurance market has been reporting publicly for some time that the PII market is hardening, which may mean premium increases", it states. "You may wish to consider shopping around and using more than one broker to help you.”
The SRA moved with frightening speed to address the pandemic.
Last year the SRA proposed making insurance packages less onerous for firms, including by reducing the minimum level of cover for firms from £2m to £500,000 (£1m for conveyancers). But it binned them after a consultation which "indicated...that insurers might not lower premiums, or firms might not take the opportunity to lower their cover".
Despite the world-altering effects of the outbreak, the SRA believes that position is still valid. "As we said in December, even if we change things, the market won’t respond accordingly", said a spokesperson. "We consulted on it, and insurers and firms said they wouldn’t do anything differently, regardless of what we did. Relaxing the minimum terms and conditions does not lead to cheaper premiums".
Passmore also asked if it might be an idea for the SRA to waive the next practice fee and fund the 2020/21 budget through reserves, "rather than sucking cash out of the market at this point". RollOnFriday put the point to the regulator. An SRA spokesperson said, “We, like other organisations and law firms, will be considering the longer term impacts of the pandemic in due course once they are properly understood”. No comfort yet, then.
Passmore isn't a faultless seer, however. He also advocated for the SRA to cancel the LPC exams. When it did exactly that, it was caught flat-footed by the outcry from students, and promptly u-turned to allow home assessments.