Rise in OSS activity sees record number of forced closures

The Office for the Supervision of Solicitors has shut down a record number of firms this month.

It has closed 18 practices in March alone. This compares with just six in February and a total of 11 in the three months preceding that.

The OSS says it will only intervene when “things go seriously wrong and it is deemed in the public interest to shut the operation down with immediate effect”.

A spokesman says: “This month has been a record by a wide margin.

“It partly reflects the conclusion of a number of long-running investigations. But it also reflects an increased level of activity by the monitoring and investigating unit.

“Dishonest solicitors must now realise there is a fair chance they will be detected.”

The OSS' new proactive approach comes at a time when it faces mounting criticism for its massive backlog of cases.

The solicitors' watchdog receives about £8m a year from the Law Society but blames the backlog on underfunding and law firms' inability to handle minor complaints internally.

The Law Society's projected budget for 2001 will see OSS funding slashed by £3m to £5m. Former Law Society president Martin Mears describes the figure as “fantasy”.

At least three of the firms are linked to allegedly fraudulent immigration work.

The spokesman continues: “You can expect more action in that area because there are various lists of firms we are looking at.”

Carlisle-based solicitor Garry Nixon had his practice shut down on 12 March on the unusual grounds of abandonment, according to the OSS. The spokesman says: “It seems the practice had been abandoned.

“It appears Nixon is either running a bar in Spain or has enrolled as a student in Aberystwyth.”