Law Society's complaints chief was given £358,000 pay-off

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The Independent Online

The former head of the Law Society's troubled complaints body, the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors (OSS), was given a £358,000 pay-off last year, solicitors' leaders will be told today when they discuss a report that exposes failings in handling of clients' grievances.

The Law Society's chief executive, Janet Paraskeva, also received a £20,000 bonus and £60,000 in pension rights on top of her £167,000 salary, according to the Society's accounts. The new figures will be published today at a meeting of the solicitors' ruling council, along with a report by Sir Stephen Lander, former head of MI5, that calls for "a step change in approach and delivery" in the way the OSS handles complaints. Sir Stephen, who was asked by the Law Society last year to help improve its complaints system, says the organisation needed to be "more accessible and outward looking".

One of Ms Paraskeva's first duties upon taking office in 2000 was to appoint John Plane to head the OSS to improve the complaints system. But when he left last summer the OSS was still facing a rising tide of complaints. Today it emerges that he was paid £358,000 for "compensation for loss of office".

In her final report last year, Ann Abraham, the Legal Services Ombudsman, condemned the Society's poor performance and its complaints handling as "consistently shaky". Complaints rose last year by 37 per cent to about 15,000.

Sir Stephen's main recommendations include increasing the compensation paid to victims of shoddy solicitors, from £5,000 to £15,000, and more OSS staff to sit on the telephone helpdesk. Sir Stephen said he found that "at times of pressure many calls are abandoned".

He also wants wider publicity given to findings of misconduct against solicitors. "There is at one level an element of perversity in arrangements that ensure that the Society's own sanctions are only made known to the one person (the aggrieved client) most unlikely to ever employ that particular solicitor again," he wrote.

Some progress has been made under Ms Paraskeva's leadership. With a special budget of £21m, the Society has set up inspection teams and is launching a charter of clients' rights. It is also hiring about 50 extra caseworkers. More than half the complaints, 56 per cent, are dealt with in three months.

A spokesperson for the Law Society said: "John Plane took early retirement as a result of a redundancy ... The chief executive's actual salary is £167,000. In line with Law Society staff, she received a 3.5 per cent pay rise ... It also includes £60,000 in respect of backdated payments in lieu of pension benefits of £26,600 per annum."

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