Lawyers and accountants face OFT investigation into charges

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The Independent Online

Lawyers, accountants, architects and other professions could be forced to reduce their fees under an Office of Fair Trading investigation as part of the Budget.

The inquiry will investigate whether professions involved in business worth an estimated £25bn are keeping their fees artificially inflated by restricting competition and thus are open to the charge of being 'fat cats'.

The OFT investigation will concentrate on accountancy and legal professions, but OFT sources confirmed that it will also include other groups including engineers, doctors, teachers, nurses and midwives

Some of the highest legal fees have been charged by lawyers involved in complicated commercial cases. The investigation will try to discover whether rules of entry to the profession have helped to protect them from competition.

The Law Society said yesterday that it welcomed the inquiry. "We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by this review," a spokesman said. "We do not publish minimum prices for solicitors services and neither do we improperly restrict their advertising." He predicted the inquiry would take years to complete after which the professions would be given a clean bill of health.

The inquiry by John Bridgman, the OFT director general, will be completed by the end of the year.