The Junior Lawyers Division has sent a scathing email to the SRA stating that it has lost confidence in the regulator's approach to prosecuting junior lawyers.
The JLD's chair, Charlotte Parkinson, penned a letter to the SRA criticising its decision to prosecute Claire Matthews - a junior lawyer who was recently struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. Matthews had initially lied about losing a briefcase containing sensitive documents on a train, before confessing to her supervisor a week later. The struck off lawyer is now appealing against the SDT's decision with the help of lawyers working pro bono.
In its letter to the SRA, the JLD said it was "alarmed" to read Matthews' account of her mental health in the judgment. The junior lawyer had told the tribunal that after losing the briefcase, she barely ate or slept, and attempted to take her own life by drinking bleach.
The JLD was also "remarkably concerned" that the SRA prosecuted "a potentially suicidal person", on the assumption that the regulator knew about Matthews' mental fragility "in advance of the hearing". The JLD said in the "unlikely event" that the SRA only became aware of Matthews' mental state during the hearing, it should have "immediately" called for an adjournment at that stage.
Junior lawyers opine on the SRA's handling of the briefcase matter
This is not the first time the JLD has voiced concerns over the SRA's disciplinary proceedings. It also wrote to the SRA in February last year complaining about its decision to prosecute junior lawyers Sovani James and Emily Scott.
Sovani James appeared before the SDT in 2018 for backdating letters to make it look as though she had progressed a case. The tribunal at her hearing was told that the junior lawyer was too scared to come clean to her bosses, and that she worked in a "toxic and uncaring" firm. The tribunal struck her off.
In the other matter, Emily Scott was struck off after she knowingly overcharged clients, even though the tribunal acknowledged that she "had been deceived, pressured, bullied and manipulated" by the partners.
The JLD said these cases had "shaken" its faith in the SRA, and that it no longer had confidence in the regulator's judgement concerning "junior lawyers who have mental health issues" or those "working in toxic work environments". The JLD requested that the SRA "immediately review" its approach in comparable cases in the future, as well as ongoing cases.
An SRA spokesman told RollOnFriday, "we have received the letter from the JLD and will respond directly to them in due course."
The JLD said it would also write separately to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal to outline its concerns about the "severity" of its decisions in striking off junior lawyers.