'Degraded' SCB attacks society

THE SOLICITORS Complaints Bureau has accused the Law Society of eroding its independence and undermining its staff.

At the Law Society Council meeting last week the bureau's policy advisory committee chair Tony Heywood defended the beleaguered bureau whose reform has become a key election battleground.

“We resent the fact that the bureau has been used as a political football over the past few months and feel insulted, humiliated and degraded on behalf of the staff,” he said.

“This has got to stop if the bureau is to maintain the credibility which it has earned with its very high standard of complaints handling.”

Heywood singled out Chancery Lane's handling of publicity for the 'Supervision of solicitors' consultation paper drawn up by secretary general John Hayes and bureau head Veronica Lowe for criticism.

He described the exercise as a “fiasco” which had resulted in staff learning of misleading reports of the bureau's abolition through the media.

The paper advocates reform of the bureau to beef up its powers and strengthen its independence to boost its credibility with the public.

But Heywood said the bureau's independence had been eroded by Chancery Lane's handling of publicity.

Heywood's assault on the Law Society preceded a debate on the consultation paper when council members queued up to stress their support for the staff and the bureau.

Among them was former president Tony Holland who described election candidate Martin Mears' promise to completely reform the bureau as “extraordinary”.

Vice-president John Young said the paper was a “very green one” and promised it would take on board the lay-dominated policy advisory committee's criticisms which included its failure to tackle the effective supervision of solicitors to reduce complaints.

Mears did not take part in the debate, but later defended his own controversial paper on SCB reform.

Hayes defends the Law Society's handling of the consultation paper's publicity but commends Heywood for his staunch defence of the bureau.

John Malpas