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Scots consumers stuck with ‘crooked’ self-regulation of lawyers as England & Wales go fully independent with new Legal Ombudsman

06 Oct

Legal OmbudsmanScotland left behind once again as England & Wales finally go fully independent on complaints against the legal profession with new Legal Ombudsman. CONSUMERS in England & Wales who are placed in the position of having to make complaints against solicitors, barristers or others in the UK’s legal services market will, unlike their Scots counterparts, now have an opportunity to approach a fully independent regulator, the new Legal Ombudsman, which began its work today, Wednesday 6 October.

The Legal Ombudsman’s office say this is the first time people can come to an independent and impartial body to help them resolve a legal complaint. The service covers all lawyers, including solicitors, barristers, Law costs draftsmen, Legal executives, Licensed conveyancers, Notaries, Patent attorneys, Probate practitioners, Registered European lawyers, & Trademark attorneys. The Ombudsman has official powers to put things right if the service a consumer received from their lawyer was not satisfactory. The Ombudsman’s office predicts it may handle more than 100,000 cases of complaint a year.

SLCC LAW SOCIETYLaw Society of Scotland & SLCC are not seen as independent by Scots consumers. The powers & independence of the new Legal Ombudsman for England & Wales are seen as a vast improvement on the so-called ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which has so far demitted most complaints back to the Law Society of Scotland for investigation. The ‘independent’ SLCC, which is now mostly viewed as being anything but independent is also now well known for being populated by former Law Society staff & several board members, who in their register of interests appear in some cases to have previously served on Law Society Committees and be locked into Scotland’s famous ‘quango circuit’, with this & other issues leading one msp dubbing the SLCC as “The Law Society’s front company”.

The Legal Ombudsman’s office for England & Wales issued a Press Release today : A Fresh Start for Resolving Legal Complaints, stating “The new Legal Ombudsman will also enhance the reputation of the profession and aims to simplify the current consumer complaints system. Consumers can have greater confidence in using legal services because they know they can access an independent body that has specific powers to help.”

adam sampsonLegal Ombudsman for England & Wales, Adam Sampson. Chief Ombudsman, Adam Sampson said: “We know that most of the time, lawyers provide a good service. But sometimes things can go wrong. When they do, people must have access to someone they can have confidence in to put things right. That is our job – to resolve complaints quickly and fairly. We have worked hard to make sure we bring a fresh approach to legal complaints with a focus on justice.”

He continued : “We also want to work closely with lawyers and their regulators to raise standards. We want to help prevent complaints and make the legal and justice systems work better”.

jonathan djanoglyJonathan Djanogly MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Jonathan Djanogly MP, Minister responsible for Legal Services commented: “The new Legal Ombudsman will make a real difference for people who want to make a complaint about their lawyer. The consumer will have a single point of contact, instead of the current confusing situation, and the process will be a smoother one for the legal profession.”

The Minister continued : “As a lawyer myself I fully understand the vital part this will play in the regulatory system that helps maintain the high standing that our lawyers have around the world.”

Peter Vicary SmithWhich? Chief Executive Peter Vicary-Smith. Peter Vicary-Smith, CEO Which? said: “The arrival of the Legal Ombudsman is a welcome step forward for consumers who use legal services. It is hugely important for consumers to have the opportunity to contact an independent ‘referee’ who looks at both sides of the argument, makes enquiries, asks questions and comes up with a remedy or solution that they believe is fair.

By law, the Legal Ombudsman (for England & Wales) is a free service for consumers. It is funded by a levy on the legal profession but with Government controls in place to ensure it is independent and free from influence when it comes to resolving complaints. There is no cost to the taxpayer. A range of publications to help consumers and lawyers can be found here: http://www.legalombudsman.org.uk/publications – also worth a read to consumers in Scotland, to evaluate what you are missing out on …

In a BBC News report, Martyn Hocking, editor of Which?, said the Legal Ombudsman should have more powers, saying : “The Legal Ombudsman has a cap on the amount of compensation it can force solicitors to pay back of £30,000. It’s questionable whether that is high enough.”

He also called on the Ombudsman to “name and shame” by publishing complaints data, as the Financial Ombudsman has recently started doing after years of lobbying.

Mr Hocking said: “The Legal Ombudsman needs to be able to collate that data and definitely needs to be able to name and shame.”

Unlike Scotland, where complaints against the legal profession appear to rank higher in the secrecy stakes than national security, the motives of which are clearly to protect solicitors & law firms business from the possibility they may lose business as clients get to know their solicitors shocking complaints records, there are now moves afoot in England & Wales to ensure complaints & complaints decisions are published.

The Legal Ombudsman has launched a consultation on publicising complaints decisions, stating : “The Legal Services Act gives the Legal Ombudsman the power to publish reports of our investigations and decisions. We have put out a discussion paper to help us consider what sort of information we will publish. We would particularly like to hear views on whether or not we should identify lawyers and firms when publishing the outcomes of investigations.”

You can download the Discussion paper (September 2009) (pdf) on the consultation and take part, sharing your views on this important topic. The deadline for responses to the discussion paper is 23 December 2010. Please write/email to consultations@legalombudsman.org.uk

Even though many of my readers are based in Scotland, I would urge you all to take part in this consultation, offering your views on why complaints against the legal profession should be published. I have reported on this issue in earlier articles, such as HERE

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission were asked earlier in the summer to comment on the publication of complaints in England & Wales, and whether the SLCC consider Scots consumers would benefit from the same entitlements? A spokeswoman replied : “The points you have raised are very interesting, but the SLCC has no comment to make on this particular issue at this time.”

Now that Scotland’s anti-consumer legal complaints system has been firmly left behind in the dark ages by the move in England & Wales to a more transparent independent legal services regulator, questions must now be asked why Scots must suffer the well known anti-client culture of complaints handling at the Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates & SLCC.

Readers should bear in mind the new Legal Ombudsman for England & Wales was created through the Legal Services Act 2007, the equivalent act for Scotland, the Legal Services Bill being debated today in the Scottish Parliament, which the current Scottish Government have resisted including the same full independent regulation of legal services as is now the case in England & Wales.

Why therefore must Scots consumers suffer more of lawyers regulating themselves and covering up for each other when the remainder of the UK has fully independent regulation of their legal profession ?

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