SRA Character & Suitability Test - Any outcomes that can be shared?

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KLB123
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Hi All

I have a spent criminal conviction of ABH for which I received a 12 suspended sentence. I also received a police caution when I was under 16 to a similar effect. Without going into too much detail, much of this was a result of a turbulent childhood and upbringing as a whole to which is very much in my past.

The above aside, I am looking for anyone that would be happy to discuss their application outcomes from the SRA in this respect? I have of course read the very vague guidelines on their website and had the vague response of 'each case is assessed individually' from the SRA when I spoke to them. I do appreciate each case will be assessed on its own merits.

Anyone who is willing to share their experience/outcome (whether good or bad) would be hugely appreciated.

Many thanks in advance,

K
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KLB123
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(Original post by J-SP)
Your references and ability to show rehabilitation will play a major part in any decision.

It does depend on how long ago the conviction was though. The fact there are two instances isn't going to help, if it was a one of this might have been a lot easier. But if they were both some considerable time ago and you can present clear rehabilitation since then you may have a stronger case, espeically if both instances you were technically a child.

Getting as much supportive evidence of your rehabilitation and character now from reputable referees/sources will put you in the best position. It is impossible to say how the SRA will rule though as it really is down the detail of your convictions/cautions (e.g. if your ABH has any form of discrimination attached to it, it becomes much more tricky).

The suspended sentence tends to be a killer though. I have helped with suitability tests before, but can't recollect someone having a suspended sentence - I suspect there are people out there that have them though and that the SRA have approved.
Thank you JS-P, I gathered as much. The caution was when I was 15 years old so now 10 years ago. The ABH conviction was in 2012 however was deemed to be spent last year when DBS Scotland contacted me.

I have 4 years worth of legal practice experience under my belt from being a paralegal through to being a fee earner within Real Estate prior to me enrolling on my LLB. My conviction was declared to all of my legal employers who still employed me after declaring the same.

It would appear however, that when working in legal practice as a non-qualified person very much differs from someone who is looking to hold a qualified role.

I am getting involved with probono work and giving my studies 110%. I am hoping a detailed overview of my turbulent childhood along with strong supporting references will help the SRA recognise my 'rehabilitation'.

I am still interested to hear from people on this post with regards to their dealings in this respect and what response they received.

All the best,

K
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KLB123
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(Original post by J-SP)
References from your employers will be vital then. You have a major advantage that you have been deemed to be of a suitable character by law firms and have already been given significant responsibility. Most people I know who have gone through this process won't have had that type of evidence on their side.

Where your ABH conviction is actually fairly recent and as an adult, I think it will be incredibly difficult though, but I have known decisions to be influenced by the minute detail of how the crime/offence was recorded by the police at the time. Its why you have to take the "case by case" basis literally.
The issue I am facing when approaching previous employers (especially the most recent which is a well known city firm) is that they are reluctant to provide me with anything more than the date reference as such. It would appear that due the nature of what the reference is for it is unnerving them.

I am hoping that my academic tutor references (who are mostly ex-practicing legal professionals) will carry enough weight if I cannot get a character reference from all of my previous employers.

Could you explain the 'minute detail of how the crime/offence was recorded by the police' element of your reply in greater depth? I would like to understand how this has impacted previous applications you have assisted with.
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KLB123
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(Original post by J-SP)
Every little detail of your caution and conviction could be scruntised. This could include looking at any police records of how the incident(s) were recorded. If for instance any details suggested that you were aggressive/abusive towards any of the officers that arrested you/dealt with your conviction, this is going to look far less favourably than if you complied. If the same details suggested that you lied to the police and there was evidence to prove this, this again would be looked upon far less favourably than if you hadn't. Even factors like who the victim of your crime could be taken into consideration.
That does make a lot of sense.

In brief, the conviction came from a scuffle outside a nightclub and the conviction was ABH as opposed to a battery purely down to the injuries sustained by the victim i.e. bruising.

I did not resist arrest and was not abusive to any of the arresting officers. I complied within the interview and pled guilty at the Magistrates Court. The fight I was involved in was not motivated in anyway other than me being under the influence of alcohol and unfortunately (in a sense) I was the one who did not come away from it injured.

I also relocated to live with other family members well before I was convicted to remove myself from the area and people I was with.

Can I ask as a separate question, is assisting with such application something you for a living? I ask as I would obviously look to use such a service/assistance.
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999tigger
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I thought the guidelines were pretty fair and reasonable. I don think they are vague. They have to deal with all sorts of cases so its nice they investigate and consider each case individually and look at the merits. Just argue your own case, stress the good points as JSP said rehabilitation etc and get as much credible supporting evidence to support this and your overall suitability to join the profession.

At least it was ABH not GBH and wasnt dishonesty or sexual. You can only do your best. Have you checked with the SRA whether hearings of previous applications are made public? I also wouldnt underestimate the importance of how you come across, so make sure you get the balance correct.
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KLB123
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(Original post by 999tigger)
I thought the guidelines were pretty fair and reasonable. I don think they are vague. They have to deal with all sorts of cases so its nice they investigate and consider each case individually and look at the merits. Just argue your own case, stress the good points as JSP said rehabilitation etc and get as much credible supporting evidence to support this and your overall suitability to join the profession.

At least it was ABH not GBH and wasnt dishonesty or sexual. You can only do your best. Have you checked with the SRA whether hearings of previous applications are made public? I also wouldnt underestimate the importance of how you come across, so make sure you get the balance correct.
I get I am being slightly defeatist in a sense of thinking they say they will consider each case but generally speaking just take one look at 'ABH' and say no and thank you for your £100 fee.

Have you had any experience with applications of this nature yourself?
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999tigger
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(Original post by KLB123)
I get I am being slightly defeatist in a sense of thinking they say they will consider each case but generally speaking just take one look at 'ABH' and say no and thank you for your £100 fee.

Have you had any experience with applications of this nature yourself?
Fortunately not.

I dont get your attitude though? Where will being defeatist get you? You are saying you want to be a lawyer, so start representing yourself and assembling the best case possible (theres plenty of scope). If you cant stick up for yourself then how do you expect to do it for clients?

If you do your best then it will either be a yay or a nay, just deal with it whatever happens. You owe it to yourself to do your best, especially if its what you want.
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username3108158
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First poster who has an avatar :ahee:
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adz86
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It's been an awfully long Monday at work, so excuse the brain dump! I have recently been through the SRA's character and suitability assessment process, albeit for a different type of offence, and my thoughts (in no particular order) are:
  • What was the caution for? A caution for a 'minor' offence would not be a significant hurdle to overcome if it was not committed for personal gain and if you are able to demonstrate rehabilitation through a clean record in the subsequent 10 years. See Mulla v SRA case law here: http://www.ardl.org.uk/wp-content/up...10-Edition.pdf
  • Unless your caution was the result of exceptional circumstances, I would seek to advance mitigating circumstances to explain the surrounding events rather than attempt to absolve yourself of any responsibility
  • The ABH conviction in 2012 presents two hurdles you will need to overcome. First, and this is why the caution is important, the SRA could view this as evidence that you are likely to re-offend and bring the profession into disrepute. Second, the sentence handed down suggests this was viewed as serious by the CPS and court
  • Character references must come from a person, not an entity such as a law firm. Do you have any contacts within the industry who would be comfortable writing a glowing reference for you? I was able to draw on several contacts, all of whom are very senior in their respective industries, to support my application with character references

Mind is now drawing blanks so I'll stop here but happy to help if you need further assistance.
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KLB123
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(Original post by adz86)
It's been an awfully long Monday at work, so excuse the brain dump! I have recently been through the SRA's character and suitability assessment process, albeit for a different type of offence, and my thoughts (in no particular order) are:
  • What was the caution for? A caution for a 'minor' offence would not be a significant hurdle to overcome if it was not committed for personal gain and if you are able to demonstrate rehabilitation through a clean record in the subsequent 10 years. See Mulla v SRA case law here: http://www.ardl.org.uk/wp-content/up...10-Edition.pdf
  • Unless your caution was the result of exceptional circumstances, I would seek to advance mitigating circumstances to explain the surrounding events rather than attempt to absolve yourself of any responsibility
  • The ABH conviction in 2012 presents two hurdles you will need to overcome. First, and this is why the caution is important, the SRA could view this as evidence that you are likely to re-offend and bring the profession into disrepute. Second, the sentence handed down suggests this was viewed as serious by the CPS and court
  • Character references must come from a person, not an entity such as a law firm. Do you have any contacts within the industry who would be comfortable writing a glowing reference for you? I was able to draw on several contacts, all of whom are very senior in their respective industries, to support my application with character references

Mind is now drawing blanks so I'll stop here but happy to help if you need further assistance.
Thank you for your reply, I really appreciate it.

1. Unfortunately the caution was for Assault and I believe I was 14 years old at the time (just before my 15th birthday)

2. On the basis of point 1 above, I would therefore not be able to show a clean record since then with my ABH conviction in 2012. I fully appreciate it looks like I could re-offend again by looking at these 2 facts.

3. The sentence handed down was fair and from what I understand, my local home town has an issue with late night revellers getting into drunken fights hence my Solicitor advised the judge coming down tough. But as I say, I committed the offence and I took the punishment.

4. I do have friends who are practicing solicitors who I could reach out to. My question is, can they give me a reference as a professional individual as opposed to on company letter head? The reason I ask is because past experience in my time in practice tells me that can be a sticking point.

Can I ask how recent your offence was and the outcome of your application? I don't mean to pry I just wish to understand your experience.
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KLB123
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(Original post by J-SP)
Point 4) You will really need a professional you worked with to vouch for you - someone who hasn't got a natural bias like a friend. This is an advantage/positive you have - utilise it. Getting various reputable referees lined up is important. I'd recommend at least one professional, one academic and one personal. The personal one would be best to come from someone who can comment on who you were as a person 10 and 5 years ago, as well as now.
Point 4 - The person i'm thinking of is 10 years PQE and I got on well with at my last firm. I just wanted to know if they had to provide it on letter head paper or whether they could provide a reference but obviously refer to the fact they are a practicing lawyer and we worked alongside one another?

Would I be right in thinking the more references the better?
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KLB123
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(Original post by J-SP)
I doubt the firm will allow the individual to provide it on headed paper. It won't matter from the SRA's perspective, they will just want to see that it comes from a reputable individual.

It was different for the applications I was involved in as the firm were wanting to recruit the individual as a trainee, and so provided supportive evidence on headed paper as they would be impacted by the SRA's decision.

No quality over quantity is definitely the better option for this process.
So the individual in the example you are referring to was already at the firm and were looking to hire the individual as a trainee?
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adz86
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(Original post by KLB123)
Thank you for your reply, I really appreciate it.

1. Unfortunately the caution was for Assault and I believe I was 14 years old at the time (just before my 15th birthday)

2. On the basis of point 1 above, I would therefore not be able to show a clean record since then with my ABH conviction in 2012. I fully appreciate it looks like I could re-offend again by looking at these 2 facts.

3. The sentence handed down was fair and from what I understand, my local home town has an issue with late night revellers getting into drunken fights hence my Solicitor advised the judge coming down tough. But as I say, I committed the offence and I took the punishment.

4. I do have friends who are practicing solicitors who I could reach out to. My question is, can they give me a reference as a professional individual as opposed to on company letter head? The reason I ask is because past experience in my time in practice tells me that can be a sticking point.

Can I ask how recent your offence was and the outcome of your application? I don't mean to pry I just wish to understand your experience.
Regarding the potential for being viewed as a repeat offender, you may have to distinguish between the two incidents and, if true, submit that they were two isolated incidents which are explainable by reference to the surrounding circumstances.

My convictions were the outcome of a regrettable 2 months in 2001 but I was also disqualified from driving for speeding in 2012, which could only be said to be loosely related to my previous indiscretions.
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KLB123
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(Original post by J-SP)
Not necessarily already at the firm, but had been made a training contract offer. Any instances like this lead to pretty hefty conversations between the individual and the firm. If the firm is supportive, then it is just a case of them stating that they want to recruit the individual and feel through their recruitment process and conversations with the individual that they are suitable for the job and would support their application. As I stressed earlier though, the processes I have seen have been for far lighter offences though.

Can you not get one of the department hiring managers from your last employer(s) to be a referee? They must have made a similar decision about your suitability when they hired you, they just didn't need to get approval from the SRA.
Ok that makes sense. Based on your experience, in my shoes, would you look to satisfy the SRA before I in theory receive a TC offer or before? Could waiting for a TC offer support me as per your example?

My thoughts with your latter point is, if they had only carried out a basic CRB check as I wasn't a qualified member of staff, it would have not have shown any spent convictions. Also, the firm in question (as a handful of big city firms have) have removed the spent criminal conviction question from their application forms by supporting the 'Ban the Box' initiative.
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adz86
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(Original post by J-SP)
I doubt the firm will allow the individual to provide it on headed paper. It won't matter from the SRA's perspective, they will just want to see that it comes from a reputable individual.

It was different for the applications I was involved in as the firm were wanting to recruit the individual as a trainee, and so provided supportive evidence on headed paper as they would be impacted by the SRA's decision.

No quality over quantity is definitely the better option for this process.
Out of my 5 references, 1 submitted on headed paper and only because he is a partner of the firm it came from; 3 submitted an email from their work email accounts; and, 1 submitted from a personal email address but referenced his position in the company he works for.
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adz86
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(Original post by KLB123)
Ok that makes sense. Based on your experience, in my shoes, would you look to satisfy the SRA before I in theory receive a TC offer or before? Could waiting for a TC offer support me as per your example?

My thoughts with your latter point is, if they had only carried out a basic CRB check as I wasn't a qualified member of staff, it would have not have shown any spent convictions. Also, the firm in question (as a handful of big city firms have) have removed the spent criminal conviction question from their application forms by supporting the 'Ban the Box' initiative.
As an individual trying to break into a competitive profession, I sought an answer from the SRA before applying for TCs. This was based on my feeling that I would be viewed as less of a risky choice with a positive answer from the regulatory body.
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KLB123
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(Original post by adz86)
As an individual trying to break into a competitive profession, I sought an answer from the SRA before applying for TCs. This was based on my feeling that I would be viewed as less of a risky choice with a positive answer from the regulatory body.
Thank you for sharing this with me. Do you know the process of then informing a TC offeror of your SRA application being satisfied? Do you declare your record to the employer on acceptance of the TC offer and then state that the SRA are aware and you have subsequently satisfied their Character & Suitability test?

J-SP you may also know the answer to this?
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adz86
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(Original post by J-SP)
Guess it depends on what information is asked on the application form.

I have seen it where firms ask you to disclose any previous convictions/offences. In that question I have seen:

1) Candidates explain they have passed the suitability test already
2) That they are going through the process
3) No reference to it whatsoever

I have also worked for firms that don't ask for any conviction information at the application stage. Some candidates add the details in the "further information section" along similar lines to the above

I have had individuals notify me at interview stage

I have had individuals notify me after the offer has been made.

I might not even be aware of people going through this process where they have been approved and I don't know any different.
What is your view on a candidate opting to merely state they have passed the SRA's character and suitability test without disclosing the convictions? My understanding is that the question is asked to ensure the individual will be assessed as suitable to start a training contract by the SRA and not the individual firms. Therefore, if the SRA has already conducted such an assessment, it would be harsh for a firm to make an assessment too as this would create another barrier to entry for a class of individuals.
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KLB123
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(Original post by adz86)
What is your view on a candidate opting to merely state they have passed the SRA's character and suitability test without disclosing the convictions? My understanding is that the question is asked to ensure the individual will be assessed as suitable to start a training contract by the SRA and not the individual firms. Therefore, if the SRA has already conducted such an assessment, it would be harsh for a firm to make an assessment too as this would create another barrier to entry for a class of individuals.
Very valid point. JS-P, would this naturally cause you to question why a candidate hasn't answered the previous criminal convictions question directly?
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adz86
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(Original post by J-SP)
If explictly asked about convictions, then I don't think it is a good idea to just say "I have passed the SRA suitability test"

It depends on the nature of the question on the application though.
Unfortunately I share your view and have outlined my convictions in addition to stating that I have passed the SRA's test. Only one firm has qualified the conviction question with 'this will be used for the purpose of assessing you under the SRA's character and suitability requirements' and only then would I feel comfortable merely stating I had passed.
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