Ombudsman raises Legal Services Bill fears

The legal services ombudsman Zahida Manzoor has voiced concerns about the detail of the Legal Services Bill, but on the whole calls the Government’s aims laudable.

Manzoor, in her annual report, urged the Government to ensure reforms deliver what was intended for the consumer and the profession.

The report states that Manzoor is particularly concerned that amendments made by the House of Lords, some backed by the Bar Council and the Law Society, may attack the very core of the principles laid down in the bill.

Manzoor believes that, if those amendments stand, the proposed Legal Services Board’s ability to act as an overarching regulator will be weaker than originally envisaged and states that the Government should consider whether the setup costs of the new arrangements, estimated to be in excess of £32m, are cost-effective or viable.

In the annual report, the ombudsman states that she was not satisfied with almost a third of the cases brought by consumers complaining about services received from the Law Society.

Manzoor found the Law Society’s performance to be well short of what a modern, customer-focused organisation’s should be.

The report, however, commends the Bar Council’s regulatory arm, now the Bar Standards Board, with satisfaction in 84 per cent of cases reviewed.

Between 1 April 2006 and 31 March 2007, the Office of the Legal Services Ombudsman completed 1,886 investigations into complaints, with 1,783 new cases being accepted during that period.

Complaints about solicitors comprised 89 per cent of the ombudsman’s workload, with the total amount awarded in compensation standing at £98,614, with an average of £411 per award.