New-look SCB 'a privilege to prize'

The Office for the Supervision of Solicitors takes over as the new regulatory body for solicitors this week in an attempt to remedy the problems of the Solicitors Complaints Bureau.

Speaking at its launch, recently appointed chair Peter Ross said the organisation would concentrate on speeding up complaints handling and ensuring the independence of the decision- making process.

The body is divided into the Office for Client Relations, which deals with complaints from clients about solicitor service standards, and the Office for Professional Regulation, which deals with serious breaches of regulation, professional misconduct and cost of default.

Its existence is the culmination of more than 18 months' consultation with both sides of the profession, consumer bodies and politicians over the future regulation of solicitors.

The debate has largely centred on a Law Society survey in which almost half the respondents believed the SCB was “heavily influenced” in favour of solicitors and the legal profession and two-thirds expressed their dissatisfaction with the outcome of their complaints.

Earlier in the year, former Law Society vice-president Robert Sayer suggested that the profession would be better off if it totally abandoned attempts to regulate itself.

In his annual report the Legal Services Ombudsman, Michael Barnes, says that unless the new body achieves a better level of complainant satisfaction the Law Society will inevitably lose its complaints handling function.

Ross said: “We will prove that regulation of the solicitors' profession is in safe hands and that the profession's power to regulate itself is a privilege that we will prize on their behalf.”

He refuted criticisms that the replacement of the SCB will be “the same animal with different spots”.

He said: “This is not simply window dressing, a new coat of paint or a name change for the sake of it.”

The office will operate from the same offices as the SCB in Leamington Spa under the same staff.