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SRA chair pledges greater transparency – but not to reopen meetings

Bradley: New post-meeting blog

The chair of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has set out plans for its board to work in an open and “accountable” way – but its board meetings remain closed to outside scrutiny.

The regulator has also published a ‘public engagement charter’ [1] to burnish its transparency credentials.

Anna Bradley said it was “really important that people can understand how our board makes decisions”.

In a statement, she said: “So we are looking at this in a root and branch way, which is why we have spoken to other regulators and organisations to understand what they do and what works.

“We think the key thing is to make sure information is easily available in a timely way. We will publish more in-depth minutes, and make sure our default position is openness whenever possible.

“The board is also looking at publishing a clear statement on how we are accountable to our stakeholders, how we make decisions and what we can – and can’t – publish and why.”

She said there would also be more social media activity, including a new chair’s blog [2] on what was discussed at the meeting, “which helps people to quickly see what we have been doing”.

The SRA held board meetings that were open to the public and press from its inception until two years ago [3]. Members of the public or profession never attended, but Legal Futures and some other legal press did.

This has been replaced with press briefings held with senior staff around two weeks after each meeting.

Officially, no decision has been taken on whether to reopen the meetings, although a new system of one-to-one telephone briefings is being introduced for journalists.

A spokesman said: “This is step one of the board’s action on accountability and transparency. We will be discussing the total package at the next board meeting.”

However, Legal Futures has seen indications that this position is unlikely to change on the basis that members of the public will not attend, irrespective of the fact that the legal press is the de facto representative of the SRA’s regulated community.

The charter sets out the SRA’s commitment to how it will work with the public and listen to people’s views.

The regulator said it was developed “following extensive engagement with both members of the public and organisations representing the needs of different groups”.

The charter pledges that the SRA “will be open and accountable about what we can do for you; what you can expect from us; how we come to the disciplinary and policy decisions we make; [and] what to do if you are not happy with any element of how we have dealt with you or any decision we have made”.