The SRA Assessment of Character and Suitability Rules
The SRA Assessment of Character and Suitability Rules, which were formerly known as the SRA Suitability Test, are used by the SRA to assess a person’s character and suitability to hold a position within the profession.
The Rules apply to trainee solicitors applying for admission, qualified lawyers making applications under the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme, persons applying for roles of COLPs and COFAs and solicitors applying for restoration to the Roll.
The Rules set out the factors the SRA will take into account when deciding whether an individual has the character and suitability to become a solicitor or a compliance officer. The Rules stress the overriding need to protect the public and maintain public trust and confidence in the profession, and the Rules take into account criminal convictions, misconduct relating to educational assessments (such as plagiarism and cheating), inability to manage personal finances, personal regulatory history and other behaviour which is incompatible with membership of the profession (such as dishonesty and violence).
The application for an SRA Character and Suitability Assessment
The SRA requires an applicant who is subject to the SRA Assessment of Character and Suitability Rules 2019 to complete an application form which asks for information on the factors which are taken into account under the assessment (such as criminal convictions and personal financial history). It is not uncommon for applicants to tell us that they misunderstood the questions on the form they were required to complete, and we recommend that every applicant should carefully read the SRA Assessment of Character and Suitability Rules 2019 before completing an application form as that reduces the risk that the questions are misunderstood.
In our experience, most people who fail the assessment fail because they have not made full disclosure of relevant information (such as minor criminal convictions). If full disclosure is not made the SRA is likely to assert that the applicant is unable to comply with regulatory requirements and that the failure to make disclosure was deliberate and dishonest.
If the SRA wishes to oppose an application on the grounds that full disclosure has not been made or for any other reason, the SRA will prepare a report for an adjudicator with a recommendation that the application should be refused. The applicant will be given an opportunity to respond to the report. Any response should be prepared very carefully and any supporting documents should be submitted to the SRA with the response.
Once the SRA has received the response, the application will be referred to adjudication. If the Adjudicator decides that the application should be refused there is an internal right of appeal to an Adjudication Panel. There is also a further right of appeal to the High Court.
SRA early Assessment of Character and Suitability
An individual does not normally apply for an SRA assessment of character and suitability until the end of his or her training contract. Regulation 5.2 of the SRA Authorisation of Individuals Regulations 2019 enables a law student or trainee to apply for an early assessment of character and suitability. That can assist individuals who are worried that their application may be refused and wish to know whether they are likely to be admitted before incurring the cost of the LPC or spending two years under a training contract. The SRA has stated that a decision on early assessment of character and suitability is not binding but that they will usually uphold the decision on a subsequent application for admission. We can advise on the best way to present early applications for assessment and the submissions to make in relation to any areas of concern.
Examples of our work
We often advise individuals on suitability issues and we give three examples of our work below.
In C v SRA we acted for a trainee who had been refused admission because she had four County Court judgment debts. We advised her to appeal the SRA decision. The SRA conceded the appeal after reading our submissions. She is now practising as a solicitor.
In Y v SRA we acted for an individual who had been refused admission on the basis of an assertion that she had dishonestly concealed judgment debts. We appealed the adjudication decision on the ground that the decision should not have been made without an oral hearing. The High Court agreed with us and quashed the adjudication decision.
In the case of M, we advised a trainee on his character and suitability issues and helped him gain admission. Two years later in 2019, he wrote to tell us about his successful career progression as a solicitor and to say “I am forever grateful for your advice at a time of extreme difficulty”.