Ombudsman pulls up the Bar Council over complaint

The Legal Services Ombudsman has slammed the Bar Council for its handling of a complaint against two barristers.

In separate reports rel-eased on 3 December 2003, Ombudsman Zahida Manz-oor criticises the management of complaints against two of its members. The Lawyer has agreed not to name the barristers concerned.

The matter arose out of a school fees dispute between complainants Mr and Mrs McLellan and the Gosfield School in Essex. The McLellans then complained to the Bar Council about the conduct of two of the barristers working on the case.

The Ombudsman takes no view on the merit of the complaints or the conduct of the barristers. However, the reports identify “serious flaws” in the Bar Council’s handling of the complaint, recommending in one case that it reconsiders the matter.

In the other case, the Ombudsman recommends that the Bar Council pays the McLellans compensation of £1,500 for the “distress and inconvenience”. At the time of going to press, the complainants had not heard from the Bar Council.

The report, seen by The Lawyer, also criticises the Bar Council’s conduct towards its own members, asking “whether it is fair and reasonable for the Bar Council to serve charges on a barrister before information and evidence… has been obtained”.

The report comes in the wake of the Ombudsman’s interim annual report, showing that from 1 April to 30 September 2003 Manzoor investigated 115 such allegations about the Bar Council. However, in more than 90 per cent of cases she was happy with the council’s response.

Bar Council chairman Matthias Kelly QC told The Lawyer: “By this objective analysis, we can be said to be delivering the goods on complaints. We are not complacent, however, and will look forward to working with the Ombudsman in maintaining and improving our system.”