Former president knocks Law Society over stemming freedom of information

Martin Mears and Robert Sayer have accused the Law Society of trying to “muzzle” its staff and prevent council members from investigating its activities.

The former president and his deputy, who are planning to contest the presidential elections again this year, say that new guidelines on staff disclosure of information, issued last week, are designed to stop council members from digging out embarrassing information about the Law Society.

Under the guidelines, staff will have a duty to refer certain requests for information made by council members to senior managers or the secretary general Jane Betts before replying.

This includes any information believed to be requested mainly for political or electioneering purposes or where responding could lead to the unauthorised disclosure of confidential information.

The guidelines state: “Serious breaches of these guidelines could be viewed as an issue likely to lead to disciplinary action.”

As part of this new regime in future Law Society documents will be classified in terms of confidentiality. Sayer said the guidelines were “clearly an attempt to hide dirty linen”. Both he and Mears pointed out that the Regis scandal, which saw the society's computer system go massively over budget, had only been revealed after confidential information had been disclosed by staff, and said the guidelines were an attempt to prevent this happening again.

But a Law Society spokesman said: “I think criticism that the guidelines are about suppressing information and buck-passing is wrong. If they serve this purpose, it would be the complete opposite of what they are designed to achieve.”

See leader, page 12.