The Solicitors Regulation Authority has declined to disclose documents relating to Fieldfisher's appointment to an SRA panel run by one of the firm's former partners.
In July 2017 the regulator awarded Fieldfisher a place on its General Counsel Panel. Given the firm's strong regulatory reputation, the appointment was not in itself controversial. However, Juliet Oliver, the SRA's GC, is an ex-Fieldfisher lawyer who worked in Fieldfisher's regulatory practice under Matthew Lohn. Lohn, who is Fieldfisher's Senior Partner, led the firm's bid for the SRA job.
Unusually, at the time of Fieldfisher's bid, the SRA was investigating Lohn over his actions while chair of the British Horseracing Authority's disciplinary panel. Lohn had provided the BHA with paid legal advice which led to accusations of a conflict of interest. The SRA dropped its investigation into Lohn in February 2017 while Oliver, in her role as GC, was the Executive Director of Case Direction.
After the SRA and Fieldfisher stonewalled enquiries about the potential for favouritism, RollOnFiday requested documents relating to the bid and the investigation into Lohn. This was possible due to the SRA's adoption of an information release policy broadly equivalent to that enshrined in the Freedom of Information Act. After twice extending its deadline for providing a response, the SRA released just one document, a redacted copy of the SRA's invitation to tender, along with a four page letter explaining why nothing else could be disclosed.
Straight from the horse's mouth.
Jack Baraczewski, the SRA's Information Governance Officer, said nothing about Lohn could be released because "some of the information you have requested is the personal data of the individual in question and we cannot therefore disclose [it]".
"We agree that there is a public interest in disclosure around our investigations, as this promotes openness, transparency and accountability", he said. "However, we also find that there is a significant public interest in non-disclosure in this matter."
He said that Oliver was not a member of the panel considering her ex-boss's tender but, other than that, there was nothing the SRA could say about the firm's bid. "There is a public interest in demonstrating that tenders are conducted fairly and go through a thorough evaluation process", said Baraczewski. But, "this must be balanced against the prejudice that could be caused through the release of commercially sensitive material". As such, he said, "I am not able to provide you a copy of Field Fisher’s bid [sic]". RollOnFriday didn't ask for it. It did ask for related correspondence, in particular any emails between Lohn and Oliver, but the SRA's response did not address that request at all.