In August 2022 the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) announced plans to change its rules and reinstate the annual “keeping of the roll” exercise. Until 2014, all solicitors without practising certificates were required to complete an application each year and pay an administration fee if they wished to remain on the roll. This requirement was dispensed with in 2014 in part because the annual process was seen as burdensome for solicitors.
One of the justifications now for reintroducing the keeping of the roll is given by the SRA as
There are also requirements under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) 2016 [sic] and the seven principles that govern the holding and retention of data. Under GDPR we have responsibility as a data controller to ensure we maintain accurate data relating to individuals and we are processing it fairly and lawfully.
What is slightly odd is that when, in 2014, the SRA proposed to scrap the keeping of the roll, it was not troubled by the observations of the then Information Commissioner about the importance of accuracy and privacy of information. In its reply to the then Commissioner’s consultation response it said that it had “fully considered the issues” and
We consider that the availability of the SRA’s online system, mySRA, to non- practising solicitors as a means of keeping their details up to date, serves to mitigate the possibility of data become inaccurate…To further mitigate the risk of deterioration of the information held on the roll, the SRA can include reminders to keep contact details up to date in standard communications sent to solicitors.
If that was the position in 2014, it is difficult to understand why it is any different today. The data protection principles – including the “accuracy principle” – in the UK GDPR (not in fact the “GDPR 2016” that the SRA refers to) are effectively identical to those in the prior Data Protection Act 1998.
If the SRA was not concerned by data protection considerations in 2014 but is so now, one might argue that it should explain why. The Information Commissioner does not appear to have responded to the consultation this time around, so there is no indication that his views swayed the SRA.
If the SRA was concerned about the risk of administrative fines (potentially larger under the UK GDPR than under the Data Protection Act 1998) it should have reassured itself that any such fines must be proportionate (Article 83(1) UK GDPR) and by the fact that the Commissioner has repeatedly stressed that he is not in the business of handing out fines for minor infringements to otherwise responsible data controllers.
I should emphasise that data protection considerations were not the only ones taken into account by the SRA, and I don’t wish to discuss whether, in the round, the decision to reintroduce the keeping of the roll was correct or not (Joshua Rozenberg has written on this, and the effect on him). But I do feel that the arguments around data protection show a confused approach to that particular issue.
The views in this post (and indeed most posts on this blog) are my personal ones, and do not represent the views of any organisation I am involved with.