The legal services watchdog is to use freedom of information requests to extract more data on the performance of lawyers.

The Legal Services Consumer Panel said today it wants to publish more information on complaints and service quality of law firms. In its annual report, the panel says it plans in the next year to use FoI laws to ask public bodies for information they hold on the performance of lawyers.

Bodies such as the Legal Aid Agency hold peer review scores for legal aid providers, and the consumer panel wants access to this information for use in comparison websites.

The Gazette also understands the panel would support a change requiring the approved regulators to be subject to mandatory FoI requirements. Currently requests can be made to the legal services regulators, but there is no obligation on them to respond.

Regulators agreed earlier this year in principle to publish data for use legal services comparison websites.

The panel’s report said it will work in 2014 to secure successful implementation of a commitment from regulators to release data from their professional registers.

Following agreement from the regulators and a request from the Legal Services Board for suggestions as to how it would work, it is understood a meeting was held last month to move the plans forward.

Elsewhere in the consumer panel report, on training the watchdog said it will focus on ensuring lawyers ‘remain competent’ and understand the needs of vulnerable consumers. Work will also continue with accreditation schemes to secure improvements.

The panel will publish research commissioned with the LSB on online self-help tool and ‘initiate a debate’ on the consumer’s access to online legal services.

‘We will consolidate and reinforce our three critical themes of access, choice and better protection for consumers,’ said the report.

‘Our primary emphasis in the coming year will be on equality of access. We are also mindful of the need to balance access to justice and the right amount of consumer protection.

‘Over-regulation might stifle innovation that could open up legal services to more people, yet consumers are most likely to be active and empowered when they know effective regulatory protections are in place.’

The cost of the consumer panel rose in 2014 from £188,100 to £200,605. The increase was largely due to a 7% increase in panel fees and staff costs.

The costs of the panel are met by the LSB, which is funded by contributions from the legal profession.