Watchdog urges Law Soc to clear complaints

The Law Society has a “major credibility problem” and is unlikely to deliver on its promise to clean up its complaints handling record, claims the Legal Services Ombudsman, Ann Abraham.

She expressed her doubts at last week's council meeting, despite members agreeing to give the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors (OSS) a massive u5.9m cash injection over the next two years to reduce the huge complaints backlog.

The money will fund 23 new permanent and 82 new temporary caseworkers in a bid to decrease the complaints from 17,000 to 6,000 by 2001. A casework director will also be appointed.

The recommendation for extra cash, plus proposals for OSS procedural changes, was made by management consultants Ernst & Young.

Abraham, who is expected to criticise the society in her annual report this week, said: “Because of its past failures the Law Society has a major credibility problem… I am not convinced it can deliver. I hope you will prove me wrong.”

After the debate, Abraham said she was willing to work with the society because the reassurances she wanted, had, to a certain extent, been given.

She wants the society to: appreciate the seriousness of the problem; improve client care; and introduce an infrastructure to ensure the same problems do not recur.

OSS director Peter Ross says: “We are determined to prove our detractors wrong.”

Lord Irvine has given himself power in the Access to Justice Bill to appoint a Legal Services Complaints Commissioner with power to set targets and impose penalties if professional bodies do not handle complaints properly.