MEMBERS of the public have showered the Bar Council's new complaints body with complaints accusing their barristers of “arrogance”, “self-importance” and “rudeness”.
Complaints against barristers have rocketed by nearly 30 per cent since the Bar Council introduced a controversial complaints procedure last April.
The rise – from 431 complaints in 1996 to 551 last year – will confirm the fears of many barristers who argued that by offering up to £2,000 compensation if a barrister provided “inadequate professional service” (IPS), the new system would attract a flood of claims.
Although just over 10 per cent of complaints received by Michael Scott, the complaints commissioner to the Bar Council, resulted in disciplinary action, only two complaints resulted in compensation. In both cases counsel's fees were reduced.
However, in his report, he stresses that he “should not give the impression that barristers are blameless”. “Any profession has its weak links and the Bar is no exception; a very small percentage of barristers are disciplined as a result of a criminal conviction. A slightly larger percentage make mistakes through incompetence or cutting corners. Overwork or laziness leads to mishaps. Arrogance and self-importance result in rudery and bombast. Sometimes these can cause real disadvantage and distress.”
Ronald Thwaites QC, head of 10 King's Bench Walk, who campaigned against the new complaints system last year, said: “It's no surprise that when the profession encourages complaints by advertising the possibility of financial reward, more will complain from the comfort of their prison cells.”
He predicted the figures could double or even triple over the next few years.
But Scott argued that the restrictions on compensation should be removed. At present compensation can only be awarded if the loss is recoverable at law.
In March The Lawyer revealed how complaints to the Office for Supervision of Solicitors (OSS) had shot up recently by 30 per cent.