In August 2017 the SRA issued a warning notice on offensive communications. The guidance is relevant to solicitors and indeed any individuals working in an SRA regulated practice.
The guidance follows a significant increase in complaints to the SRA about inappropriate communications both in and outside of work, particularly in the context of social media. Examples include offensive comments relating to another person's race or sexual orientation.
The SRA Principles and Outcomes
Those who work in regulated practices must comply with a number of SRA Principles - for example, Principle 2: Acting with integrity, and Principle 6: namely behaving in a way that maintains the trust that the public places in solicitors.
Firms must also show that they have achieved Outcomes 2.1 and 2.2 and ensure that they do not discriminate unlawfully in the course of their professional dealings and that they provide services to clients in a way which respects diversity.
The SRA treats any offensive communications very seriously. If a court or tribunal makes a finding of an unlawful act of discrimination in a communication, it will treat it as prima facie evidence of misconduct which may also give rise to disciplinary proceedings.
Sending an offensive, threatening or harassing communication may also amount to a criminal offence.
It should also be borne in mind that the Principles and Outcomes apply not only to communications with third parties but also to inter-office emails. As for communications with clients, other law firms and litigants in person, it is important too that the tone of any communication remains professional at all times. This issue is highlighted in the case of SRA v Stefano Enrico Mario Lucatello, Case No. 11621/2017.
Conduct outside practice
The majority of the complaints received by the SRA relate to communications made outside practice. The Principles apply to solicitors outside of their working day and solicitors have to be careful with the content that we are posting, for example, on Facebook.
Systems and Procedures
Sole practitioners, managers and COLPS should be aware of Outcomes 7.2 and 7.3, namely to have effective systems and controls in place and to identify, and to monitor and manage risks to compliance to achieve compliance with the Principles, rules and outcomes. In other words, all managers of regulated practices will have to ensure that their staff comply.
None of this is new and certainly it is not surprising that the SRA has issued a warning notice in light of the recently reported cases. For example, in SRA v Majid Mahmood Case Number 11625-2017, a criminal solicitor was fined £25,000 for making anti-semitic comments on Facebook.