SCB `stonewalled' over lost file claim

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The Independent Online

Sally Anne Morrison's complaint to the Solicitors' Complaints Bureau should have been simple to deal with. But six years, thousands of pounds and hundreds of pages of correspondence later, she fights on.

Ms Morrison, 33, from Llanelli, Clwyd, took a former tenant to court in 1989 for the unpaid rent and damage to her two-bedroomed flat. But before the case could be heard, she says, her solicitor misplaced her file. "First he said he'd given it back to me, then he said he'd given it to the court," she said. "Then he changed his mind again and said he didn't know where it was."

Her case collapsed and she was left to find about pounds 5,000 for repairs and mortgage arrears. She worked at two jobs and eventually started a small taxi business.

"For the money and trouble it cost me it would have been cheaper to let him keep the flat," she said ruefully.

After trying to get her file back without success, Ms Morrison sought redress through the SCB in February 1993. Her father, Alec, a retired businessman, took up the cudgels on her behalf when she could not find the time.

The SCB wrote back initially saying she had no grounds for complaint as the solicitor had returned the files. The Morrisons persisted.

The solicitor then said he had passed the files to a court clerk. Mr Morrison went to the court and was told by the clerks that they never had the file. "Month after month went by," Mr Morrison said. "They [the SCB] did everything they could to defend that solicitor. Then they wrote to us saying if he has lost the case notes, then he has lost them. They stonewalled and stonewalled and then finally in November 1994 the SCB gave us leave to appeal."

The Morrisons, by this time thoroughly disgusted with the SCB, took their case to the legal ombudsman in December 1994.

Finally, after five years of struggle with the SCB, the legal ombudsman confirmed last February that it would be investigating the Morrisons' case against the solicitor.

"The SCB are a solicitors' protection bureau in my opinion," Mr Morrison said.

"There has to be a complete change to this complaints system, with somebody totally independent in charge. It takes the average person 56 days' work to earn enough to pay a solicitor for one day's work. No wonder most people are reluctant to fight them."