Double defeat for presidential duo

A CONVEYANCING fees and complaints handling double whammy of defeats has hit the Law Society presidency.

Martin Mears' and his deputy Robert Sayer's campaign to end cut-price conveyancing was in tatters after last week's council meeting when they abandoned their scheme to use the indemnity fund to force up fees.

The vice-president put a brave face on his plan's failure and pledged to continue to search for a solution.

He and Mears were chided for “leading the profession up the garden path” by fellow council members, who went on to approve a new complaints handling body which will enjoy “guaranteed” independence from Law Society interference.

A half-hearted attempt by Sayer for a public guarantee of independence over adjudications to be withdrawn was only supported by Mears himself.

An in-house complaints handling body had been a key Mears election promise.

But he and Sayer appear to have realised early on in their tenure that Labour Party and consumer group resistance to an in-house complaints body had made the promise nearly impossible to carry out.

They did, however, devote a huge amount of time and energy to their conveyancing indemnity plan, spurred on by the support of a massive grassroots campaign to put a halt to the slump in fees. In December they used all their political skills in an attempt to force the council to commit itself to the indemnity scale fees plan in the face of opposition on the council, many of whose members believed it would not work.

They were forced to delay the project after the Master of the Rolls, Sir Thomas Bingham, intervened to say any change in the rules would have to be in the “public interest”.

However, last Thursday Sayer admitted that the project would not work following a report from independent insurance specialists which said the private sector would not be prepared to offer insurance to firms deprived of the profession's own indemnity scheme.

Sayer's project was based on the proposition that alternative insurance would be available to firms charging below fixed fees. “The claims experience of conveyancers as a class…were generally considered to be unattractive as an underwriting proposition to insurers,” it said.

After the meeting, Mears said efforts to find a solution had been blocked by the council.