“Robert Sayer has missed his vocation,” muttered someone during a coffee break at last week's Law Society Council meeting. “He should have been a private detective.”
Sayer's unofficial report into Regis to council members quotes from private e-mail memos between staff at Chancery Lane as their alarm about the problems with the computer system grew.
It is interesting to compare these with the bland, confident public statements they made to their then president, Martin Mears, and council members.
Sayer also makes some serious allegations. He says that a copy of a damning report by external consultants Praxis was produced for staff on 24 January 1995 and that it was not shown to members of the finance committee when they met the next day.
Instead, they were told that “1994 had been a year of achievement” and that “by the end of the year the society should have a major new asset in the Regis database”.
Yet the Praxis report says the Professional Standards Directorate had “no confidence whatsoever in the ability of C&T (computers and telecommunications department) to deliver an adequate Phase 3 system within the required time scale”.
A risk assessment report by Touche Ross, published on 27 February 1995, identified six “high risk” areas in the management of the project including a lack of co-ordination across C&T, no comprehensive test strategy and no single project manager. It recommended the production of a contingency plan if Regis could not be implemented in time.
A further consultant's report recommended in June 1995 that the society should revert to the old Wang system for issuing certificates or a manual system used if certain milestones had not been passed by Regis. Sayer alleges that none of the milestones were passed but that staff pressed on with Regis.
He also complains about the use of virement, transferring money from one budget to another. He said that in July £130,000 was “vired” from other budgets to feed Regis.
While this was all happening behind the scenes, maintains Sayer, the public message the Law Society was giving was entirely different.
“During January 1996 pro-gress on issuing the practising certificates was still painfully slow and the management board and staff must have been increasingly aware of the problems,” discloses Sayer.
“Despite that, on 10 January 1996, the Law Society Gazette published a letter from John Hayes apologising for the delay with the PCs, referring to: 'a number of bugs, some of which were outside the society's control'.”