Complaints balancing act

You are right to say (The Lawyer 23 July) that the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors has a steep task ahead in turning round the public's perception of bias towards solicitors. You could equally well have referred to the difficulty of reversing the profession's perception of bias in favour of clients.

Of course solicitors can handle complaints against their profession in a fair and unbiased way. That is what happened in the Mike Howells case, using investigation by an independent solicitor – as in all council member complaints.

Those who sit on such panels are clear that the cases that should be referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal are the most serious ones, in which the powers to strike off, suspend or fine are likely to be used. The panel will be assisted by guidelines for all committee work which we are drawing up.

Unlike the Solicitors Complaints Bureau (SCB), the Tribunal cannot award compensation to the complainant. That means internal remedies in cases of inadequate professional service are often more effective outcomes.

The terminology of internal sanctions – a rather arcane scale of 'rebukes' – is in need of replacement by cumulative cautions and, subject to legislation, fines. That is on our agenda for the autumn.

The confidential status of committee decisions will be reviewed at the same time, though I am by no means sure it would benefit either the public or the profession for these to be generally available.

Contrary to your assertion, there is no masquerading going on at the SCB, but a real effort to get right the difficult balance between the interests of complainant and solicitor. I hope the new Office may see an end to the ritualised breast beating that now seems to form part of the reporting of any SCB story.

Paul Pharaoh

Chair

The Law Society's Adjuducation & Appeals Committee.