Letter: Last chance for the Law Society

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Sir: I can well understand the concern expressed by Carol Davies (letter, 14 May) about the way complaints about solicitors have been dealt with by the Law Society in recent years. Indeed, the Law Society's own research in 1995 showed that two-thirds of those who complained to the Solicitors Complaints Bureau remained very dissatisfied with the final outcome.

Research findings such as that, and criticisms from a variety of quarters, not least myself, led the Law Society last autumn to replace the Solicitors Complaints Bureau with a new body, the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors, whose aim is to deal with complaints in a much more consumer-friendly way.

As I made clear in my most recent annual report, the new body set up by the Law Society must be its last chance to get complaints handling right. It should be given time to show what it can do, but if there is no improvement, Carol Davies and the MPs who signed the early day motion may well be right that the present two-stage system, whereby complainants have to have their complaint dealt with by the professional body before they can refer it to the Legal Services Ombudsman, needs to be replaced by a one-stop independent complaints body.

As regards my own independence and accountability, I would like to assure Carol Davies that I am accountable to Parliament through the annual report which I make to the Lord Chancellor. I am also subject to scrutiny by the Home Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons and my decisions on individual complaints can be judicially reviewed by the courts.

For the record, out of 1,388 investigations carried out in 1996, my findings were wholly or partly in favour of the complainant in 411 cases.

MICHAEL BARNES

Legal Services Ombudsman

Manchester

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