Caution over complaints

I do hope members of the Bar will think carefully before following the advice of Ronald Thwaites QC (The Lawyer 7 November 1995) that they should vote against the Bar Council's complaints system at the extraordinary general meeting on 21 November.

As I have pointed out in my last three annual reports, the Bar's present complaints system is primarily a disciplinary system which is incapable of offering lay complainants any form of meaningful redress except the satisfaction (if satisfaction it is) of seeing the barrister disciplined.

All the Bar Council's new proposals do is to extend the complaints system to cover complaints of "poor service" as well as professional misconduct, with powers to order financial redress if a complaint of "poor service" is upheld.

With the council being unable to do that at the moment I have been prepared to use my own power to recommend barristers pay compensation in a small number of cases. I only did so in five cases out of a total of 80 which I investigated in 1994, all five of which concerned civil rather than criminal matters.

Like it or not , we are have to operate in the era of the Citizen's Charter. If at this late stage the Bar backs off from adopting the modest and overdue proposals which will be before them on 21 November, it will seriously undermine people's willingness to deal effectively with complaints about its members.

Michael Barnes

Legal Services Ombudsman

22 Oxford Court

Manchester M2 3WQ.