Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Law Society in England & Wales fined for poor complaints handling - never in Scotland !

Something the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman could never do (it seems) was to fine the Law Society of Scotland for the poor handling of complaints. Mind you, the SLSO never asked for such powers anyway, so its not surprising such powers were never granted !

The Times reports :

Law Society faces fine for poor complaints system

The Law Society's procedures for dealing with complaints are dismissed as "inadequate" as a £275,000 fine is imposed

Frances Gibb, Legal Editor, and James Rossiter

The Law Society, the professional trade body for all solicitors in England and Wales, has been hit with a £275,000 fine for its complaints-handling system, its second such fine in two years.

Zahida Manzoor, the Legal Services Complaints Commissioner, yesterday criticised as “inadequate” the Law Society's complaints-handling plan for the current financial year, which ends in March next year.

The Law Society, a self-regulatory body, paid a £220,000 fine for its 2006-07 complaints plan, which the Commissioner also declared sub-standard.

More than ten thousand complaints about solicitors are made to the Law Society each year.

It passes those complaints made by members of the public to the Legal Services Complaints Board (LCS) and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). Both these bodies report to the Law Society.

Investigations can take up to a year or more to process and can lead to disciplinary action being taken against members of the legal profession or entire law firms.

Ms Manzoor accused the LCS of “a preference for remaining within a comfort zone and avoiding difficult decisions until some point in the future”.

Solicitors pay in total more than £31million a year in fees to fund the LCS but it was described by Ms Manzoor as “not a value-for-money service” for its lawyer members.

“I have always welcomed improvements in timeliness and quality of processes but they have come at a financial cost that is unsustainable. This must stop. LCS has to address working practices, reduce costs and become more effective and efficient,” she said.

The Law Society and the LCS called the Commissioner's decision “completely unjustified” and accused Ms Manzoor of “disproportionate action”.

Deborah Evans, chief executive of the LCS, said: “It is important when developing a complaints handling plan that we do not make false promises. We didn't - we set stretching targets but not ones that it would be impossible to achieve.”

Des Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society, said: “The performance of the LCS compares favourably to other similar organisations and on any reasonable measure must now be regarded as an effective complaints handling body.”

Professor Shamit Shaggar, chair of the board of the LCS, said: “By any reasonable measure this is a disproportionate action by the Legal Services Complaints Commissioner that brings no benefit to either the legal profession or consumers of legal services.”

The LCS will be replaced in about two years by a new Office for Legal Complaints which should be independent from the Law Society. Ms Manzoor said it was likely that another 40,000 consumers could have their complaints handled by the LCS before it closes. “The standard of customer care must therefore continue to improve,” she added.

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