The regulator is vulnerable to accusations of hypocrisy after shutting out the public and journalists.
I’m not going to pretend to you that the Solicitors Regulation Authority board public sessions I have attended were a thrill-a-minute ride. Too often they were perfunctory attempts at going through the motions, inviting the handful of nerdy legal journalists in for a 10-minute tick-box exercise.
In fact, I haven’t seen a bona fide member of the public attend for a couple of years now. Not since a woman walked away shaking her head, asking me ‘is that it?’.
But the decision to end these public sessions is an insult to all solicitors who fund the whole thing.
The SRA can now make key decisions that affect all levels of the profession – entry exams, indemnity insurance, minimum trainee salary – in secret and without any scrutiny whatsoever.
We will have no idea whether board members objected to proposals or even whether they were discussed in any depth at all.
The arguments for closing the sessions are both spurious and cynical.
The SRA says it will engage more closely with members by taking the board on the road, but why should it matter when the doors are shut? More engagement, through events and seminars, is to be welcomed, but that is wilfully obtuse.
Arguments for closing the sessions are both spurious and cynical
The public agenda has become emaciated in recent years to the point where there is little of note to observe. But that surely makes the case for opening more of the private discussion to the public, rather than shutting them out completely? I note as well that documents such as the chief executive's report, published without fail in advance of meetings, have now disappeared from public view.
Meetings could be web-cast at minimal cost (I note the SRA often streams videos of staff explaining certain issues) with an option to silence the transmission if there is sensitive material.
The irony is the SRA makes ever more demands of solicitors to be open, whether it is through compliance procedures or diversity data. But when it comes to seeing how decisions directly affecting those solicitors are made, transparency is not an option. Even if no members of the public attended the meetings, legal journalists with the ear of the profession did, and to restrict access goes against everything a public body should be about.
John Hyde is Gazette deputy news editor