Diversity: data protection concerns over publication

Chambers with fewer than 10 staff and/or members should not have to publish the results of the diversity survey that they all have to complete this year, their regulator is to tell the Legal Services Board (LSB).

However, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has not yet gone public with whether it will make similar provision for small law firms.

Under LSB guidance published last year, all of the approved regulators have to require firms and chambers to conduct a diversity monitoring exercise, asking every individual in their workforce to self-classify against eight characteristics: age, gender, disability, ethnic group, religion or belief, sexual orientation, socio-economic background, and caring responsibilities.

As well as providing this information to their regulator, the guidance says the regulators should require firms and chambers to publish an anonymised summary of the fi

ndings, except in relation to sexual orientation and religion/belief.

Agreeing the rules to implement this – which will now be submitted to the LSB for approval – the Bar Standards Board said last week that chambers will be expected to gather the information from September and then by the end of 2012 publish it on the website, or make it available to the public on request if they do not have one. They will have to update it every three years.

The BSB said it sought advice from City law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse on the data protection implications. “That advice set out concerns that even anonymised data could identify individuals in chambers comprising fewer than 10 staff and/or members,” its board was told.

“The project board [overseeing the work] therefore decided that there should be an exemption from publication at chambers level for such chambers, save where individuals collectively consent to publication… Such an exemption is likely to have the effect in practice of excluding a significant number of chambers from the requirement to publish.”

The LSB guidance allows regulators to depart from the guidance but says it expects them to provide evidence that justifies doing so.

A spokesman for the Solicitors Regulation Authority said it was finalising its plans and would publish them shortly.

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