Scots ombudsman to get new powers

SCOTTISH solicitors and advocates face compensation claims of up to £1,000 under a proposed extension to Scottish Legal Service Ombudsman powers.

Announced by the Scottish Office last week, the move will bring the Scottish ombudsman's powers more into line with those of his English counterpart, Michael Barnes.

The proposed changes allow the Scottish ombudsman to recommend compensation in cases where the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates “mishandle complaints about their members”, said Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Forsyth MP last week.

Early primary legislation is expected.

Forsyth said that while the society's complaints system generally worked well, the ombudsman's new powers would be appropriate for “the small number of cases which do go wrong…particularly for those where there has been unnecessary and unacceptable delay”.

He added that he was sure the change would be welcomed by those who asked the Law Society or the Faculty of Advocates to investigate complaints.

Current ombudsman Garry Watson was appointed by Forsyth in 1994 for a three-year period. His remit is to consider complaints about the way the faculty and Law Society handle complaints.

In 1994 Watson dealt with 306 complaints. He issued 104 opinions, 30 of which criticised the bodies' complaints handling. He asked for the new power in his first annual report.

The ombudsman for England and Wales received nearly 1,600 complaints and issued 177 opinions, of which 49 recommended compensation payments between £50 and £500.