Troubled OSS to face massive shake-up, leaked letter reveals

THE LEGAL Services Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, is threatening to overhaul the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors (OSS), according to a letter leaked to The Lawyer.

The withering attack on the OSS was sent to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Chris Smith MP. Smith's constituent John Collins last week issued a writ against the Law Society for £100,000 damages for failing to investigate properly a complaint against a fraudulent solicitor.

Abraham will issue her annual report in June but, according to the letter, she is exasperated at the failure of the OSS to clear a 5,000-case file backlog.

Abraham says in the letter: “It is no secret that the OSS is struggling to meet its own published targets, let alone the expectations of the world at large.

“It seems to me, therefore, to be more than probable that I will have to report that the OSS has failed to make the necessary progress.

“As I see it, in the light of all the past difficulties in this area, there can be no great distance from such a report to the conclusion that there needs to be a proper searching review of the system currently in place for the investigation of complaints about, and the regulation of, lawyers – both solicitors and barristers.”

Law Society and OSS spokesman David McNeill says: “The pressure is on the OSS to improve. It is drinking in the last chance saloon.”

However, McNeill hit out at law firms for failing to deal effectively with the initial complaint. More than 40,000 complaints are lodged with the OSS every year.

“Firms do not have proper complaints-handling procedures or, if they do, they are not using them properly. It is clear that a very high volume of complaints come from a small proportion of the profession.”

Des Collins, of Watford-based firm Collins, says: “I think it is inevitable that a proper independent body has to be set up because the Law Society has been shown to be totally incapable of dealing with it in-house.”

The writ lodged in the High Court names as co-defendants the Law Society and case worker Bobbi Portes, who initially investigated Collins' complaint.