Ministry of Justice
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New arrangements for Legal Reforms must be an improvement
The Legal Services Ombudsman for England and Wales, Zahida Manzoor CBE, in her Annual Report, has said that the Government's aims in the Legal Services Bill are laudable.
However she has voiced concerns about the detail and implementation of the Bill, which is currently going through Parliament. She has urged the Government to ensure that all new arrangements demonstrate how and why they represent an improvement for consumers in comparison to the existing system for complaint handling.
Ms Manzoor says the reforms must deliver what was intended for the consumer and the profession. She is particularly concerned that the House of Lords has made amendments which may attack the very core of the principles laid down in the Bill. If those amendments stand, the proposed Legal Services Board's ability to act as an overarching regulator will be weaker than those originally envisaged.
She also says that complaints handling will continue largely unchanged under the Lords' amendments if they remain and therefore asks the Government to consider whether the set up costs of the new arrangements, estimated to be in excess of £32million, are cost effective or viable.
Ms Manzoor reports that this year she was not satisfied with 32% of the cases reviewed by her, where consumers had complained about the service received from the Law Society. Overall the Ombudsman found that the Law Society's performance to be well short of where a modern, customer focussed organisation should be.
Ms Manzoor reported that she was satisfied in 84% of cases reviewed by her where consumers had complained about the service received from the General Council of the Bar.
The Ombudsman reported that her own office had once again exceeded the Government's target of issuing 90% of reports in 6 months. 99.9% of her reports were issued within 6 months.
Notes to Editors:
1. The Office of the Legal Services Ombudsman completed 1,886 investigations into complaints between 1 April 2006 and 31 March 2007 and 1,783 new cases were accepted during that period. The average turnaround time, for investigation of complaints by the Ombudsman (from the receipt of the professional body's file) was 2.4 months.
2. The total amount awarded in compensation was £98,614 with an average of £411 per award.
3. Complaints about solicitors comprised 89% of the Ombudsman's workload.
4. The Legal Services Ombudsman for England and Wales is independent of both the Government and legal profession. The Ombudsman provides an independent check on the complaint-handling activities of the Law Society, as well as the General Council of the Bar, the Institute of Legal Executives, the Council for Licensed Conveyancers, the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys and the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys. The current Ombudsman, Ms Zahida Manzoor CBE, was appointed in March 2003.
5. Copies of the Annual Report of the Legal Services Ombudsman are available from the website at http://www.OLSO.ORG