SCB set to retain its independence

THE SOLICITORS Complaints Bureau will not lose its independence under a forthcoming complaints handling shake-up, according to a key Chancery Lane figure.

Paul Pharaoh, chair of the Law Society's adjudication and appeals committee, has told The Lawyer it would be “safe to say” that under a relaunch of the SCB later this year its arms-length status from the society would not be eroded.

He was responding to a devastating society survey of the public's experiences using the bureau in which almost half the respondents felt the SCB was “heavily influenced” in favour of solicitors and the legal profession, and two thirds expressed dissatisfaction with the outcome of their complaint.

Pharaoh, whose committee is in charge of the bureau, stressed many improvements, including an initiative to persuade firms to improve their own complaints handling procedures, had been made since the survey was conducted.

But he added that the survey would serve as a benchmark with which to measure the effectiveness of future reforms and initiatives.

The Labour Party's response to the survey was to urge the society to make the SCB more independent and powerful.

“If the legal profession proves incapable of reforming its own complaints procedures, Parliament will have to legislate,” warned legal affairs spokesman Paul Boateng.

Legal services ombudsman Michael Barnes said: “As far as the SCB is concerned, it is clear that simpler, faster procedures are needed, with stronger powers to require action by solicitors.”

News that the SCB is unlikely to lose its independence will be welcomed by staff, whose future was thrown into uncertainty when Martin Mears campaigned for its abolition during last year's presidential elections.

When he took office Mears proposed bringing the SCB's functions back in-house, as well as appointing a senior judge to act as a powerful “lay visitor”.

At the time the plan came under fire from both Boateng and Barnes.