LAW Society president Martin Mears' could face an embarrassing U-turn over his aim to bring the functions of the Solicitors Complaints Bureau in-house.
Paul Boateng MP, Labour legal spokesman, is to meet both Mears and Bar chair Peter Goldsmith QC to discuss his plans for the legal system, as framed in the Access to Justice policy document. Boateng says that an independent complaints system is the cornerstone of his plans for the profession.
Of Mears' plan he says: “We would view that as incompatible with the public interest, which requires a vigorous independent public complaints system. I shall be raising the SCB [issue] with him and making clear our view that it's a benchmark for the profession. I shall be making our principles clear.”
Boateng says that the complaints system has never been fully satisfactory but he salutes Veronica Lowe and SCB staff for wanting to publicise the bureau's concerns about trends, cases, and its decisions. “The Law Society has consistently thwarted it in that respect,” he adds.
Labour is “watching very closely” the society's internal wrangles over the SCB. “There are very real public concerns even now about whether it is genuinely independent, and there is a real danger of undermining public confidence.”
The Bar's planned reforms to its complaints system, with a lay involvement, is “a very important step forward”, says Boateng.
He told the Brighton conference, when announcing the biggest plans for change since the Courts and Legal Services Act, that his policies were non-negotiable. If the legal profession tries to derail them, a Labour government would legislate.
But he looks forward to “a very constructive relationship” with Mears and wants the society and Bar to take a “proactive” approach to the reforms.