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A scathing report on the Queensland Law Society (QLS) in parliament last week sparked a major overhaul of the state's legal profession by the Queensland government, which may see the QLS lose its disciplinary powers
The report was ordered following complaints and press allegations concerning astronomical overpricing by local ambulance-chasing firm Baker Johnson.
"Indications of numerous unresolved complaints made to the Law Society raise serious questions about the adequacy of the procedures deployed by the Law Society to investigate formal complaints of unethical behaviour by solicitors," the report says. "In the case of Baker Johnson, it appears there may be numerous complaints going back months, if not years."
The report lists complaints against Baker Johnson lawyers for the past five years. The worst case, the report says, was a bill that was overcharging by 3,600 per cent. It was ultimately reduced from A$9,019 (£3,225) to $245 (£88). But despite this and other cases, the QLS failed to investigate until allegations came out in the press in August 2002. Since then it has opened a full investigation.
The ombudsman descri-bed the QSL as "a post office box" and said the current process, which allows the QSL to discontinue an investigation if the solicitor denies the allegation, is "unsatisfactory".
It is likely that Queensland will move to a model similar to those used in West and South Australia, where outside bodies regulate complaints against solicitors.
New laws are to be drafted within the next couple of weeks, which are expected to be introduced to parliament in the New Year.