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The Bar's proposed system for handling complaints as drawn up by the Complaints System Working Group is by no means perfect. The Legal Services Ombudsman Michael Barnes has described it in a letter on this page as "modest and overdue". It does not deal with advocates' immunity. Nor does it deal with the subject of complaints between solicitors and barristers.
Nonetheless it is a step in the right direction and its mentors, Peter Goldsmith QC and Robert Owen QC deserve praise for pushing the proposals forward. The scheme would have delivered a "quick, efficient and non-legalistic" system in the form proposed by the working party. The threat of a future Labour government imposing a statutory scheme on the Bar is all too real and was taken on board by the Bar Council.
All the more pity then that the message has not got through to other parts of the Bar. The attitude of the Criminal Bar Association is surprising. The Bar Council reassured members that their concerns were unfounded and that it had sufficient safeguards to protect them. Whatever the CBA must think of this set of proposals, surely it must realise that however difficult life would be under a Bar-regulated regime, the scenario would be much worse if outside regulation was imposed.
Already consumer groups are in uproar over the proposed amendment which would mean that only complainants suffering proven financial loss would be eligible for compensation.
If the standard of proof demanded is going to be so legalistic as to require solicitors, the complaint process will end up like a mini-trial. So much for simple justice.
The Bar Council, like the Law Society, faces the difficulty of balancing political interests of lawyers with the public interest agenda. However, if it wants to retain self-regulation of complaints, the amendment will do nothing for its case.