Industry News

SDT Standard of Proof

09 December 2016

It is looking increasingly likely that the standard of proof in the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal will be lowered from the current criminal standard of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ to the civil standard of the 'balance of probabilities’.

The criminal standard applied by the SDT is out of step with most other tribunals, which hear appeals from professional bodies, with the exception of a limited number of bodies, such as the Bar Standards Board and the Police (Discipline) Appeals Tribunal.  

The current standard of proof appears to have evolved partly through decisions of the SDT in which solicitors' behaviour was expressed as 'tantamount to a criminal offence', therefore justifying the higher standard. However, for some time, the Legal Standards Board has been of the view that the civil standard is the more appropriate for use by all regulators, tribunals, and appellate bodies and the Insurance Fraud Taskforce (published in Jan 2016) was also of the view that it was not acceptable for someone who is a danger to the public to continue practising, subject to conviction by such a 'disproportionate' burden of proof. 

A case earlier in 2016 saw the SDT quash a decision of the SRA, stating that the civil standard had been wrongly used. Without ruling on the standard of proof specifically, the High Court (on appeal) referred to it as ‘unsatisfactory and illogical’ that a different standard was applied in the SDT.

Representations made by the SRA to the government have been referred to as ‘pushing an open door’ with the broad consensus being that the civil standard will very likely be adopted by the SDT, with the obvious effect that the SDT will more readily convict. However, wider political issues such as Brexit will have undoubtedly pushed back the priority of changes in this area, so the timeframe is uncertain. 

 

Ian Braithwaite
Client Relationship Manager

T: 0113 385 4483
M: 07432 695 289
E: ian.braithwaite@lbslegal.co.uk

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