Government lawyers have blocked bodies including the Judicial Appointments Commission, QC Appointments and Legal Services Commission from receiving sensitive data on complaints against lawyers, Legal Futures has discovered.
In an embarrassing last-minute u-turn, six non-regulatory organisations were dropped from the list – laid before Parliament last week – after the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) received legal advice that only regulatory bodies could be exempted from the ban on the Legal Ombudsman and Legal Services Board sharing information about individual lawyers and firms.
The statutory instrument – required under the Legal Services Act 2007 to circumvent the ban – is due to come into force at the end of February, three months later than planned.
It now includes just nine of the original 15 due to be given access to data gathered during complaints investigations.
The six missing bodies had been explicitly approved for inclusion by the MoJ response to a consultation on the issue, which concluded in September. They were the Legal Services Commission, the Judicial Appointments Commission, the judicial appointments bodies of Scotland and Northern Ireland, Queen’s Counsel Appointments and the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
The nine regulatory bodies now exempted from restrictions are the Office of Fair Trading, the Financial Services Authority, the Financial Reporting Council and its operating bodies, the law societies of Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Bar Council of Northern Ireland, the Claims Management Regulator, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and the Insolvency Service.
An MoJ spokesman told Legal Futures: “Legal advice was received that [the six organisations] could not be included as they were not regulatory bodies under the terms of the Legal Services Act 2007. We have engaged closely with those bodies in the process of reaching this decision and have explained to them the reasons why they cannot be included in this order.”
The removal of the names has sparked a hunt for alternative ways of delivering the complaints information despite the Act. The spokesman said bodies not included in the order were exploring “other ways of sharing information with the Legal Ombudsman and the Legal Services Board” including “investigating whether their own statutory powers would be sufficient to enable LeO and LSB to disclose information to them”.
Respondents to last year’s MoJ consultation were overwhelmingly positive about the list of bodies put forward for exemption. The ministry added four non-regulators to the list after receiving representations: Queen’s Counsel Appointments, the Criminal Cases Review Commission and the judicial appointments bodies of Scotland and Northern Ireland.
This process is ahead of and separate to the Legal Ombudsman’s current consultation on whether and how it should publish details of complaints against lawyers. In its response to that consultation, the Legal Services Commission has called for access to complaints data.