John Gould, senior partner, and Michael Stacey, associate in the litigation team, recently acted for the Solicitors Regulation Authority in an application in the Chancery Division to clarify the scope of the SRA's powers to destroy documents held as a result of interventions into solicitors firms.
No express provision is made in the Solicitors Act 1974 and related legislation concerning the SRA's ability to destroy such documents. The Court expressed the view that the SRA has the power to destroy documents without reference to the Court. The Court also made an Order that the SRA may destroy documents it currently holds as they fall due for destruction under the terms of the SRA's Document Destruction Policy.
The Court considered that the cost and inconvenience of retaining the files, together with the data protection risks involved in doing so, should be weighed against the risk of damage to clients through the loss of documents of real value if the files are destroyed. It was satisfied that the destruction should be allowed in respect of documents which fall due for destruction under the SRA's policy.
As a result of the Judgment, the SRA can immediately destroy 1.5 million files (from which original documents have been extracted), saving £344,000 per annum in storage costs. This represents around 25% of the total documents held in the intervention archive. In future, the SRA will be able to manage its intervention archive more efficiently and at a more proportionate cost to the profession, on the basis of its published destruction policy.
Michael Stacey, associate in the litigation team commented, "Until now the position in relation to documents held by the SRA after an intervention has been unclear. The judgment provides welcome clarity. The SRA can now destroy redundant documents, which will both save money and protect the interests of former clients of the intervened firms."
Click here to read the full judgment.
The judgment has been covered extensively in the legal press, including The Law Society Gazette, New Law Journal and Legal Futures.