Lawyers and the public appear to have different ideas about how to treat breaches of confidentiality, research by the Solicitors Regulation Authority has suggested.

Early feedback from the regulator’s Question of Trust survey has revealed noticeable disparity in how seriously respondents feel data breaches should be treated, with members of the public feeling it should be dealt with more harshly than solicitors.

SRA executive director Crispin Passmore said the profession and public appeared to hold ‘very different’ views on the seriousness of data security, although he stressed the survey was not ‘regulation by plebiscite’ in terms of deciding any sanctions policy.

The consultation has featured SRA staff touring the country to meet solicitors and the public, with online polls and Twitter surveys also feeding into results.

The regulator this week revealed 5,000 have given their views on what issues should be treated more seriously and what role, if any, the SRA should take in punishing those in breach of the rules.

Chief executive Paul Philip told the SRA board meeting that respondents were split almost exactly between solicitors and non-solicitors.

‘So far the scenarios rated as least serious were those where there was no intention to do something wrong, such as mistakenly not paying a train fare or an administrative error meaning a practising certificate expired,’ said Philip.

‘Examples of scenarios viewed as the most serious include misusing client money or taking advantage of an elderly client.’

The poll found most questions had at least one person vote that it was a matter of no concern - even in examples where client money was taken - and one person class the example as the most serious of behaviours.

Individual solicitors were more likely to vote against taking action on matters occurring in their private life, but qualified that by saying the SRA should step in if the issue affected their professional practice.

Organisations that responded were more likely to support action on matters outside of practice.

The consultation started last July and ran for six months. An initial response is likely to be published this summer.