High Court throws out Legal Ombudsman ruling, branding it ‘irrational’

The High Court has slammed the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) over its decision to order a barrister to reimburse fees to a client, branding the LeO ruling “irrational”.

Barrister Lincoln Crawford, a member of 12 King’s Bench Walk, was ordered to repay half of the £650 fee charged to Sadik Noor, who was considering bringing a discrimination case against his employer, the UK Border Agency.

Noor had taken his complaint to the LeO after a three-hour ‘initial advice conference’ with Crawford was cut short because Noor left the meeting half way through while the barrister was collecting papers from his clerks’ room.

His unannounced departure from the meeting sparked a war of words between the pair. Crawford requested that Noor explain his hurried exit, writing to him to complain that his “conduct of sneaking off with your file and the papers you had sent to me in advance of the conference, while I was out of the room, [was] disturbing and very troubling”.

Noor hit back, complaining that Crawford was late for their meeting and had not paid proper attention to his case while they were in conference. Noor alleged that Crawford had informed him that preparation for the employment claim would take a further two days, the cost of which was not discussed.

Noor’s letter continued: “I waited for roughly half an hour before I decided to leave as I was not prepared to sanction a further two days work from you and was very much pissed off. It occurred to me that I had wasted my money and time for nothing and it was clear you wanted more money.”

Crawford retaliated later the same day, writing: “I do not accept your lame excuse for your despicable conduct and I am considering what action to take. I spoke to you on the phone in the presence of my clerk and you said nothing about how you were treated.”

The row escalated further and Noor took his case to the Ombudsman, who upheld the complaint, stating: “I am satisfied that Mr Crawford failed to provide more than limited advice on Mr Noor’s potential claim and that this amounted to poor service.”

Crawford turned to Weightmans partner Patrick Gaul to bring a judicial review of the decision on the basis that it was outside the range of reasonable responses open to the Ombudsman. Gaul instructed 4 Pump Court’s Anthony Speaight QC to challenge the ruling.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Popplewell said the LeO was intended tor esolve complaints swiftly and informally and is given the powers to do what he thinks fair and reasonable. For the High Court to quash the ruling it would need to determine that the ruling was irrational, adding, “that is to say if its reasoning is not logically capable of supporting the conclusion”.

The judge concluded that the decision was “illogical” because it had failed to explain what advice had been given and what advice was not given which ought to have been given.  Further, the judge stated, the LeO did not explain in what respect the advice given was “limited” or what it meant in saying that there was “little substantive advice.

The decision was quashed and the case referred back to the Ombudsman for reconsideration.

For the claimant Lincoln Crawford

4 Pump Court’s Anthony Speaight QC instructed by Weightmans partner Patrick Gaul

For the defendant, the Office of the Legal Ombudsman

Landmark Chambers’ Samantha Broadfoot instructed directly

Sadik Noor appeared in person as an interested party