Bar Council forces Legal Services Bill changes

The Government suffered another defeat in the House of Lords in relation to the Legal Services Bill after two amendments put forward by the Bar Council were yesterday (8 May) accepted.

At the report stage of the Clementi-inspired bill, peers, by a majority of 50, backed a motion for the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) to delegate service and conducts complaints-handling to approved regulators such as the Bar Standards Board (BSB).

Geoffrey Vos QC, the chair of the Bar Council, said he was “delighted ” with the House of Lords’ amendments and welcomed the change to charging costs to lawyers.

The Lords also voted, with a majority of 56, in favour of the Bar Council amendment, which would provide more safeguards for lawyers against the threat of unjustified legal costs.

These costs, under the original draft of the bill, required lawyers to pay the costs of a complaint even if it subsequently proved to be groundless – a policy known as ‘polluter pays’.

Vos added: “They [the peers] obviously understood the importance of allowing the new OLC to delegate complaints-handling back to the Bar Standards Board. The BSB has proved it can handle consumer complaints economically and effectively. It would have been most unfortunate to have wasted the expertise that’s been built up over many years.”

The two amendments come a week after the peers voted in favour of an earlier amendment allowing the Bar Council to influence appointments to the Legal Services Board.

That amendment means that the Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips will be able to assist the Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer in making appointments to the regulatory board.

The bill will now go through to its third reading before returning to the House of Commons, where it will be decided whether or not to retain the amendments.