Lord Lofthouse pans SRA for lame approach to coalminers scandal

Lord Lofthouse of Pontefract has launched a scathing attack on the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) over its conduct when dealing with law firms that have profited unduly from the plight of sick coalminers.

In his preliminary report into the conduct of solicitors handling miners’ claims, Lofthouse alleged that the Law Society, now the SRA, instead of reprimanding lawyers who had “double-charged” miners, instead “supported and defended” them.

Lofthouse wrote: “I am of the firm opinion that the British Coal litigation evidences regulatory ineptitude and incompetence on a scale the like of which has never been seen before in this country.”

The 20-page report, presented to the House of Lords last Wednesday (18 April), goes on to claim that a year on from the Legal Services Ombudsman report calling for the Law Society to “agree to a review of their original handling of miners’ compensation cases” nothing has been done.

As The Lawyer revealed (9 April), 30 law firms made £800m in legal costs from the Coalminers’ Compensation Scheme, which looks to award damages to claimants suffering from work-related diseases such as vibration white finger.

The High Court, however, has been looking to redress the balance and, as was revealed on www.thelawyer.com (17 April), it ordered coalminers’ law firms to pay back around £100m reaped in legal costs back to the Government.

The SRA’s chair, Peter Williamson, said: “There is absolutely no evidence to support the contention the SRA has failed in its duty to deal firmly with solicitors who are guilty of professional misconduct.”

“As Lord Lofthouse well knows, we have authorised over 50 investigations, referred 17 law firms to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, won the first two disciplinary cases heard there and enforced compensation awards for two miners in the face of highly contested public proceedings. Solicitors have refunded over £2.5 million in success fees in the face of regulatory action. All of this is despite the fact that solicitors are fiercely defending their position.”