Complaints against solicitors hit record

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Complaints against solicitors reached a record high in 1999, says a report to bepresented to the Law Society this week.

Complaints against solicitors reached a record high in 1999, says a report to bepresented to the Law Society this week.

Last year 20,352 complaints and allegations of regulation breaches were received by the trouble-dogged Office for the Supervision of Solicitors, a rise of 3 per cent on the previous record year.

The office's annual report also shows that by the end of 1999 the backlog of cases awaiting determination by case officers had reached 14,907, prompting fears that the Government will soon be forced to use its reserved powers to intervene in the complaintshandling crisis. The Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, has set the Law Society a backlog target of 6,000 "live cases" to be reached by the end of the year.

The office said the number of "live cases" had been reduced to 12,666 since the report was written, showing it was making steady progress towardsthe Government's deadline. He added that the growth rate in the number of complaints had slowed from about 10 per cent to 3 per cent.

The report shows that more solicitors were permanently banned last year from practising than in previous years. The Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal struck off 80 solicitors from the profession last year, compared with 61 in 1998.

It also reveals growing concern among the office's membership. Valerie Moore, who chairs the office's client relations committee, says in the report that several lay members had considered resigning last year when the Law Society's secretary general, Jane Betts, took direct control of the office after the suspension of its director, Peter Ross.

Ms Moore said in the report: "The OSS is emerging from a difficult year of change and is grappling with the challenge of dealing effectively with the remaining large backlog of cases and a continuing high level of new complaints." She called for more compensation for clients and wider publicity about solicitors who break the rules.

The office has lost a second director since Mr Ross departed. David Rolls was appointed last year after Mr Ross was suspended when he wrote a letter informing a complainant that it would take a full year to deal with their case. Mr Rolls left his post unexpectedly in February. An OSS spokesman would confirm only that he had done so for "personal reasons".