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A BLUEPRINT to beef up the powers of a reformed Solicitors Complaints Bureau has been drawn up by the Law Society amid warnings that the profession will fragment if selfregulation is taken out of its hands.
A stronger, arms-length, lay-dominated complaints handling agency with the power to fine offending solicitors and recommend changes to practice rules is proposed in a draft consultation paper unveiled by the Law Society.
The paper, by secretary general John Hayes and bureau head Veronica Lowe, is a concerted effort to head off calls led by the National Consumer Council for the profession's self-regulatory functions to be taken out of its hands.
Its authors recommend that the reformed agency should be called the Supervision of Solicitors Agency to stress its regulatory duties.
They warn that the loss of the society's self-regulatory functions, as advocated by the
National Consumer Council, would turn the Law Society into a seriously weakened "residual body".
They also voice concerns that large firms would probably decline to fund it as a result.
Their key proposals are:
a new arms-length agency to regulate solicitors as well as handling complaints.
complaints to be handled by solicitors only when there is a "prima facie" case to answer.
fines for serious breaches or major offences not considered serious enough for a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing.
an administrative complaints handling fee, around £10, and costs awards of between £150 and £750 against firms found guilty of inadequate professional conduct.
sanctions to enforce compliance to practice management, client care and risk avoidance standards including possible withdrawal of Indemnity or Compensation Fund cover.
a high-level review of the scope or cover provided by the two funds.
The key proposal for a more independent body was predicted by The Lawyer (23 May) when Veronica Lowe said: "Self-regulation is so important, we cannot afford to make a mess of it."
The paper will be considered by the Law Society Council on 8 June before going out to