New complaints scheme in England

For English news, I have switched from reading The Times‘s legal affairs section to The Guardian‘sThe Times wanted me to pay to read, and I said no.  I am not a connoisseur of international newspapers, but from what I can tell, The Guardian is the best newspaper in the world, so I am happy to have discovered its legal section.  International in outlook, it brings welcome news of the law in under-reported areas of the world.

England is in the throes of massive change to lawyer regulation.  CMS Cameron McKenna has published an article entitled ‘Solicitors PI: Counting the Cost of Improved Legal Regulation’.  Self-regulation, Joe Bryant says, is ‘irretrievably abandoned’.  The new Legal Services Board will run extensive and expensive advertising about the new regime.  There is a new body named in a way not to leave anything to the imagination — the Office for Legal Complaints, tipped to have jurisdiction to make awards of up to AU$170,000 on the papers.  And it’s all going to increase the costs of doing business as a lawyer.   Of the OLC, the article says:

‘Dealing with the anticipated deluge of complaints will also be very expensive for firms.  The OLC is not bound to adhere to any legal principles when considering complaints, it will deal with most complaints on paper without any hearings and it can award up to £30,000 in compensation.  As a pro-consumer organisation, it is intended to be an informal non-legalistic alternative to the Courts and, as such, it will not charge consumers to use it; to do so would fundamentally undermine the LSB’s desire for it to be readily accessible.

The OLC’s authority seems likely to increase to £100,000 in due course (a further nod in the direction of the Financial Ombudsman Service).  When allied with the LSB’s profile-raising campaign, such a move will result in a further (and probably even more dramatic) increase in the frequency and cost of complaints.

Improved visibility of – and accessibility to – the legal profession’s disciplinary process appears to have been one of the major factors behind the decision by solicitors’ PII insurers to withdraw cover for costs of disciplinary proceedings as of October this year; insurers are already making significant losses on solicitors’ PII, so the prospect of seeing further costs and losses through the proposed regulatory changes (and uncertainties) must have been deeply unappealing.

This obviously means, however, that the profession will have to bear the brunt of these additional costs, either by self-funding or by paying for additional insurance cover to meet the exposure.’

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