The character and suitability assessments are based on a wide range of considerations, as the Solicitors Regulation Authority looks to gauge whether you’re fit to practice as a solicitor and have the integrity and honesty to uphold the standards of the role.
Under new rules in place, they will form the final step in your legal training, having already completed your SQE exams and the Qualifying Work Experience. Although you don’t need to complete the check at the start of a training contract anymore, you can nonetheless still take an optional early test in order to flag up any potential issues that you think might come up later on.
Part 1: Character and suitability requirements
The specific rules on character and suitability consist of four distinct parts. The first section relates to the requirements and the overriding conditions of the assessment, and how the evidence in the following parts will be used. It states that the SRA considers the need to “protect the public and the public interest” and “maintain public trust and confidence in the solicitors’ profession”. It establishes that if you have been barred from being added to the roll of solicitors based on this test, you can re-apply should your circumstances change.
Part 2: Conduct and behaviour
The second part details the process regarding the assessments for criminal conduct and other behaviour - the SRA will tend to expect applicants to have exemplary records, so as to uphold professional standards. For instance, you are likely to be refused if you have been convicted by a court for a criminal offence “involving dishonesty, fraud, perjury, and/or bribery”, or “of a violent or sexual nature”. You might also be refused if you’ve accepted a caution for a less serious crime, or if you are subject to conditional discharge. For a fully detailed list of the instances that will be taken into account, you should consult the SRA’s website.
Part 3: Aggravating and mitigating factors
Part three outlines the aggravating and mitigating factors that will inform the SRA’s decisions. For instance, a lack of evidence of rehabilitation or remorse in the case of a criminal offence will be an aggravating factor, and even more so should the offence have occurred in a position of trust. An example of a mitigating factor would be that the incidence was a one-off, as well as having credible references and no harm being done to other individuals.
Part 4: Disclosure and evidential requirements
In the final part of the character and suitability rules, the SRA details the requirements regarding the evidence you are expected to provide in your application. You’ll be expected to disclose any incident and have the obligation to let the organisation know about anything that could affect your application - although they can then conduct their own investigation.
Examples of evidence could include credible references with the matter taken into account, proof that you’ve learned from the experience, or an independent report when looking at a criminal offence. The SRA will also take into account incidents of ‘financial misconduct’, and any relevant documents will be asked of you, such a copy of a bankruptcy petition.