The transparency advantage
Timothy E. McGee
Much has been said in recent months about self-regulating professions, their public accountability and whether they serve the public interest.
One of the measures of effective regulation is whether the public has confidence in the way the regulator is doing its job. At the Law Society, we believe that to earn and keep that confidence we must ensure that our regulatory processes are open and transparent to the public we serve.
I am pleased to report that the Law Society is one of the leaders among all professional regulators when it comes to the openness of our regulatory processes. I like to refer to this as the “transparency advantage.”
By “transparency advantage” I mean the proactive position the Benchers have taken to ensure that the Law Society’s communication with the public, government and our members is the most comprehensive and accessible it can be.
Our objective is to provide the public and our members with access to all our regulatory information unless doing so would be inconsistent with legal requirements, the need for administrative fairness or our obligation to protect personal privacy.
Guided by this principle, the Law Society has, for many years, made a significant amount of its discipline and credentials material available to the public. For example, discipline hearings have been open to the public and discipline decisions have been publicly available since the early 1980s. Likewise, credentials hearings and decisions have been publicly available since the late 1990s.
We also respect the need to balance disclosure with appropriate protections to ensure the integrity and fairness of our regulatory processes. For example, the Law Society’s rules require that complaints and investigations remain confidential unless a citation is issued or the matter is known to the public. This policy protects the integrity of our investigations and the privacy of the parties, but allows the Law Society to comment publicly when complaints are already in the public domain.
The Law Society also has guidelines governing disclosure of personal information in discipline and credentials decisions to protect the privacy of third parties who become involved in our regulatory process. To ensure fairness we also have rules that require that discipline decisions not identify the lawyer if all charges in the citation are dismissed (unless the lawyer consents).
These disclosure policies ensure that the public, government and the lawyers of BC have access to the information they need to understand how our regulatory processes work and to have full disclosure of the decisions that are made.
Transparency and openness of regulatory processes are rapidly becoming an important touchstone against which governments and the public assess our accountability. By being on the forefront of public disclosure, the Law Society does indeed have an advantage. But that does not mean we can stand still. We must continue to look at other professions and at best practices, in Canada and globally, to ensure that we remain open and accountable and that we retain our “transparency advantage.”