Barnes denies support for Mears' plans

LEGAL Services Ombudsman Michael Barnes has rebutted attempts by Law Society president Martin Mears to enlist him as an ally in the battle to reform the Solicitors Complaints Bureau.

An article in the 3 October issue of The Lawyer highlighted Mears' attempt to claim the ombudsman's support over the SCB's impending reform, following Barnes' proposal that its regulatory functions should be brought in-house.

In his own paper on the bureau's reform, Mears, who wants all the SCB's functions brought back in-house, claimed the two men shared “the same general approach” to complaints handling.

But in a letter published in The Lawyer this week (see page 15), Barnes stresses the “fundamental” differences between the two men's views.

The ombudsman says he wants a new complaints handling body to be “as independent of the Law Society as possible”, while Mears believes Chancery Lane should handle all the SCB's functions.

“I am anxious that this fundamental difference between what we are each proposing should not be overshadowed by the areas of agreement which, though significant, are less important than the fundamentally different views we take about the future of complaints handling,” said Barnes.

The Law Society's consultation paper on the bureau's reform was sent out before Mears took office, and his own paper, circulated in September, is highly critical of plans to make the SCB more independent.

In an unusual move, Mears printed the ombudsman's reply to the consultation paper alongside his own, even though the consultation period was not finished.

The ombudsman agreed the paper could be published as long as it was published in full.