The Legal Ombudsman (LeO) will publish its decisions in full, but not until “operational stability” has been achieved, it has emerged.
Chief ombudsman Paul McFadden said LeO had estimated that it “would not be able to start publishing decisions before the end of 2023/24”.
LeO’s governing body, the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC), approved a recommendation from Mr McFadden to make a provisional decision to publish full ombudsman decisions.
In a paper to the OLC, he said: “However, given that implementing this project will bring resource requirements and have an impact on operational performance (including a direct impact on forecast case closure levels), we recommend delaying full implementation until a point at which case closures and business stability will allow this.”
He said a “comprehensive assessment of the quality and consistency of our decision making during 2022/23” would be needed as LeO moved towards publishing decisions, which included the development of a “revised quality framework and the roll out of a standardised template” for writing decisions.
LeO issued a consultation paper on publishing decisions in October 2019. Responding to it in September the following year, the organisation said the need to improve performance levels would delay its work in improving transparency.
Mr McFadden said LeO was the only large ombudsman scheme not to publish full decisions on its website, “a policy that is seen as best practice within the industry”.
“Once a quality framework is in place, we will be in a better position to understand our risk appetite and the level of work required to ensure written decisions are of the right standard.
“At a time where operational resource is at a premium, aiming for this in the short term is not a realistic goal.”
Mr McFadden said initial assessment of quality and implementing revised quality standards could take around 12-18 months.
Work was also needed to enable LeO to “develop a consistent brand or recognised house style” for its decisions.
“LeO has a history of investigators and ombudsman having the autonomy to write their decisions which has resulted in variation.”
The chief ombudsman said there would also have to be training, because decisions would need to be anonymised and they currently contained “lots of details such as dates of hearings through to the times at which emails are sent”.
There may be a “need to consider Plain English training, alongside technical training, and guidance on publication criteria”.
A further cost would be technology, because LeO did not have the technology to support publishing full decisions.
There would also have to be a full consultation and revised publications policy.
“Considering the information outlined in this paper, we estimate that we would not be able to start publishing decisions before the end of 2023/24.”