Complaints about solicitors hit record high

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The Independent Online
COMPLAINTS AGAINST solicitors have reached an all-time high, according to a new report. But 80 per cent of all new complaints were generated by a 20 per cent "hard core" of problem solicitors.

The figures, revealed in the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors (OSS) annual report today, show that last year 31,672 complaints were made against the profession, compared with 23,453 in 1996. One solicitor was investigated for marrying a client's former wife, while another charged pounds 1,500 for attending a funeral.

The report will confirm that the backlog in outstanding complaints stands at 9,000. The OSS admits that figures for this year indicate that the situation is not expected to improve.

A survey of 300 complainants included in the report reveals serious misgivings about the standard of service provided by the OSS. Major areas of concern centre on delay, and communication between the OSS and complainants.

Geoff Hoon, minister at the Lord Chancellor's Department, warned the profession last week that if it did not put its house in order the Government would be forced to remove its self-regulatory status.

Peter Ross, the barrister recruited by the Law Society in 1996 to head the OSS will not, it is understood, be considering his own position as director. Instead, the OSS is expected to argue that the Law Society has failed to provide it with sufficient resources to do the job.

While complaints have jumped by more than 8,000 in three years, the number of staff employed to investigate complaints has remained almost static. The backlog of complaints worsened last year when the OSS offices at Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, were flooded.

However, the Law Society's president, Michael Mathews, said that of 15 million legal transactions each year, only 1,000 lead to complaints.

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