In our awareness raising work with regulated professionals, their accountability to regulators is a central theme. Increasingly there needs to be an understanding that regulators are looking not just at how you conduct your work. They are focusing on your personal conduct - how you behave with peers and how you conduct your personal life more broadly.
The Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA) recently confirmed this in rebuking a Hogan Lovells partner in a matter concerning his treatment of the nanny employed to look after his children. In 2018 an employment tribunal found that the partner had directly discriminated against the nanny on grounds of her pregnancy and unfairly dismissed her.
The SRA found that the treatment breached Principle 6 or their Code: “to behave in a way that maintains the trust that the public places in you and in the provision of legal services”. Clearly lawyers (and other professionals) must act in an exemplary way in all walks of life if the public is to have that trust.
The partner was also found to have breached Outcome 10.3 (the prompt notification of relevant information) by not reporting the tribunal’s decision to the SRA.
Part of the SRA’s consideration was the partner’s integrity. The view they reached was that a rebuke alone was proportionate in the circumstances, in part because “there was no lack of integrity on his part.”
One product of the SRA’s rebuke was, of course, to bring further attention to the case. The tribunal’s judgement is a publicly accessible document. For many years we have warned people how unpleasant it can be to give evidence in this setting. This applies just as much in a case brought against you personally or your employer.
The tribunal’s assessment of the partner’s “deliberate attempt to obscure the fact of the knowledge of the pregnancy” [para 7.12] has already been picked up by the Legal Cheek website. Further comments about his “confused and confusing” evidence [para 7.19], his “failure to fully disclose relevant documentation” [para 7.21], that “he has shown himself to be an inaccurate and incomplete historian” [para 7.37] who “has not been frank in his evidence” [para 7.44] will have been difficult to hear.
Tribunals can be brutal places. We are accountable to them, just as we are to our regulators – for how we conduct ourselves at work and in our personal lives. And in how we behave when we are challenged.