The Law Society’s freedom of information adjudicator has rejected a bid to open up public access to accountant’s reports submitted to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
The decision by Richard Eyre follows a member of the public’s bid to see a particular firm’s accounts, which was rejected by the Law Society and then sent on to adjudication.
The society argued that accounts should fall within section 14.5 of its freedom of information code, which entitles the regulator to withhold them because they are information which is “about specific investigations, disciplinary cases or applications arising from [its] regulatory role”.
In his adjudication, Mr Eyre said that not everything a firm submits to the SRA to satisfy the regulator’s duty of supervision must become a public document.
“There may be a public interest in all such information being generally available, but there may be a range of strong competing interests too – not least, in the case of financial information, commercial confidentiality,” he said, adding that commercial confidentiality cannot necessarily be protected merely by redacting personal data from published accounts.
Mr Eyre ruled: “It is the duty of the SRA to satisfy itself, from all the information it may obtain in an investigation or in the discharge of its wider regulatory responsibilities, that a firm is operating lawfully and in accordance with all regulatory requirements. That information clearly falls within section 14.5 of the code.
“There cannot be a general obligation to make all that information publicly available, and the public interest would not be well served by such an obligation. Nor, in this case, have I seen any particular reason to believe there would be a public interest in the accounts being published in this case.”