Openness and transparency, LSB style

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17 May 2011


 

I have written before about the Legal Services Board’s approach to transparency – it demands much of those it regulates but getting information from the board is not quite so easy.

And as the above document shows, even when you do get information, it’s not always that useful. This is a paper on the LSB’s corporate risk register that went to its March meeting and has only recently been published (click on the image to see it better). The Sir Humphreys of this world would be proud.

This is how the system works. Papers are delivered to the board with a recommendation for their Freedom of Information Act status. Let’s say they are for this month’s meeting.

At the June meeting, the minutes of the May meeting will be approved. Some 7-10 days later, according to LSB policy, those minutes (often with some redactions) will be published. Some unspecified time after that, the papers from the May meeting will usually be published, having had their FoI status reviewed, sometimes meaning the original author’s FoI concerns are overridden, sometimes meaning more redactions and papers being withheld altogether.

Basically, it is several weeks after the event that the May papers will become available, by which time they have often been superseded by what happened at the June meeting anyway. But one won’t know for sure for several weeks, and so on and so on.

Of course I want access to all the information I can get my hands on so I can fill this website, so I’m not exactly unbiased. And equally, no doubt me and my ilk are one of the reasons the LSB is being so careful. On the other hand, they should be pleased that someone is showing an interest.

I understand that some LSB work has to be confidential for a variety of reasons, not least so that members can have a candid debate. But I think the LSB clutches the need to keep policy development private too close to its chest.

A tougher problem is that the board only has limited resources to review and put the material up online. This is frustrating, but I can’t imagine the profession would be that keen on paying more for the LSB just so I get information in a more timely manner.

I just think the LSB could relax a bit. The Law Society’s membership board recently received a paper from council member Helen Davies which suggested that the society should adopt a more liberal application of its own freedom of information code.

The board’s minutes confirmed the impression I have had of late that more and more council and board papers have been designated as confidential. Ironically I suspect this is because people like me have actually started reading them on the society’s website – it was OK when nobody took an interest. The matter will now go before the full council for debate.

The society may not always like what I and others write about it, but I reckon in the long run it is better for both Chancery Lane and the profession that pays for it that the society’s activities are watched closely and reported. It’s better than being ignored.

In the meantime, I will keep reading and pressing. My nemesis at the LSB, Bryan, will no doubt roll his eyes when my regular emails come in. And maybe the board will at least stop publishing ludicrous papers like the one on this page.

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