Ex-Law Soc five in Regis complaint

Five former senior Law Society officials, including John Hayes, the chairman of the pensions regulator Opra, and the insurance ombudsman Walter Merricks, are named in a 17-page letter of complaint to the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors over the management of the Regis computer project.

The other three are Jane Hern, John Randall and Geoff Bignall, former Law Society directors of management planning, professional standards and professional services respectively.

The complaint, made by the British Legal Association (BLA), chaired by Alex Alagappa, alleges that the five breached various rules of the Solicitors Act, including rule one which states that a solicitor should not do anything which might compromise the reputation of the solicitor or the profession.

The complaint is founded on an unofficial report into Regis circulated last year by Law Society deputy treasurer Robert Sayer which alleged that officers had withheld information from Sayer and Martin Mears when they were treasurer and president respectively. Alagappa said that a key allegation was that some e-mail between Law Society officers relating to Regis had been deleted before Sayer could see it.

But John Randall, who resigned last month as Law Society director of professional standards to become chief executive of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, dismissed the charges as “a bit of nonsense”. He said Alagappa was confusing the solicitor-client relationship, regulated by the OSS, with the employer-employee relationship, regulated in this case by internal procedures that exist in a body like the Law Society. Randall also rejected the substance of the complaint saying: “You only print out and keep for the record those e-mails that are particularly significant.”

An outside consultant's inquiry into Regis, commissioned by the Law Society, found that no procedures had been breached by staff involved in the project.

The BLA submitted its original complaint in February but was asked by Peter Ross, head of the OSS, to identify better the people and the issues involved. The association then instructed barrister Stanley Best to draft this new letter. It has also asked that the OSS use a leading counsel from the Northern Circuit rather than its own officers to investigate the allegation, to ensure that the inquiry is seen to be independent.

However, an OSS spokeswoman said: “Peter Ross has headed the investigation and will continue to do so. We have a public guarantee of independence from the Law Society; that should be enough.”

John Hayes, former society secretary general, Walter Merricks and Geoff Bignall, both formerly on Hayes' management board, said only that they were awaiting details of the allegation and would be happy to co-operate.

Jane Hern, now registrar designate at the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, was unavailable for comment.