Cause to complain?

In their plans to reform the Solicitors Complaints Bureau, they have ingeniously devised a system which at first glance looks like a complete overhaul of the SCB, described last year by the National Consumers Association as a “bureaucratic nightmare”.

If the proposals are implemented, the Solicitors Complaints Bureau will be known as the Supervision of Solicitors Agency, removing the complaints from the complaints bureau. The new agency looks more independent with “distinguished lay people” playing a pivotal role, yet the Law Society still retains control. Indeed, the new organisation is tantamount to a client's charter. And it won't do the image of solicitors any harm either – with the emphasis on self-regulation, the number of “formal complaints” should plummet.

Hayes and Lowe have also set out to make the regulation of complaints more cost-effective, putting the cost back to the profession, and specifically, those complained about. So, where's the hitch? The National Consumers Association would point out that the appearance of independence is in fact just that. Half the members of the supervisory board are still solicitors and they are responsible for overseeing the agency's policy.

However, the reformed organisation, while retaining its distance from Chancery Lane is still part of the Law Society. The proposal to control the new organisation's press office by making it refer to the Law Society's secretary-general, while maintaining that it is independent from Chancery Lane, is just one indication of this.

But apart from the glossy front proposed by Hayes and Lowe and the political manoeuvres, there is only one question which needs to be answered – will clients get a better service or will they find their complaints being shuffled between the Solicitors Supervisory Agency and the firm complained of?