Law Society vetoes £48m Midlands site

Treasurer breaks rank from management over proposed OSS development

The Law Society has voted against spending an estimated £48m on a new complaints handling site in the Midlands.

The vote, at a 2:1 majority, follows a letter seen by many council members from the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine to Law Society chief executive Janet Paraskeva, threatening an end to self regulation (The Lawyer, 2 December).

The new Midlands site was proposed to house complaints handling staff working for Law Society regulatory arm the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors, who are already based in the region, as well as some other administrative functions.

The proposal was brought by the Law Society’s senior management team, comprising Paraskeva and senior staff, and was supported by the society’s main board, which president Carolyn Kirby sits on with Paraskeva, the treasurer and committee heads.

Just days before the vote, Law Society treasurer and main board member Geoffrey Sandercock controversially broke rank, emailing council members to speak out against the proposal.

Talking about the risks of spending the extra money, he wrote: “It is clearly important that we provide properly for our staff. However, we do not need to spend millions of pounds to impress the Lord Chancellor.”

The Law Society’s senior management team originally put the cost of the Midlands building at £23.5m, but the treasurer states that the entire operation would have cost £48m.

Philip Hamer, a member of the Law Society’s finance and resources board, said: “£23.5m is what we would have paid for the building, not how much it would have cost.”

Hamer also defended the treasurer’s right to break rank with the Law Society’s senior management team and Main Board. “He was just doing his job. He sent the note out to all council members because he felt we needed to know,” he said.