Complaining about lawyersNew legal complaints office is a victory

17 October 2005

News that lawyers will soon cease to handle their own complaints is a great victory for consumers, says Which?.

We've campaigned on the issue for years and have been working closely with the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) on legal reform. Now we're delighted that the proposed Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) will give consumers access to the independent redress system they have lacked for so long.

Legal professional bodies - such as the Law Society and the Bar Council - regulate their members and represent their interests at the same time. Many consumers felt they were getting a raw deal from such bodies when it came to making a complaint about one of their members.

Ministers say consumers need to be satisfied that complaints are handled independently, efficiently, fairly and quickly and they believe the OLC is the best way forward. They have yet to reveal the timetable for the handover.

Legal board to oversee regulators

While the bodies will lose the right to hear complaints, they will continue to regulate their members. However, a new Legal Services Board will oversee this and step in if the bodies don't police themselves properly.

It is also good news for consumers that the government proposals will enable lawyers and non-lawyers to work together in practices where legal and other services can be provided in a one-stop-shop combining, for example, conveyancing and financial advice. These are known as 'multi-disciplinary practices'.

Overall, we welcome the proposals but we believe the OLC must be truly independent and not merely a re-badging of the existing complaints system.

Louise Restell of Which? Campaigns said: 'This is great news for consumers who have struggled to have their complaints heard under the system managed by the professions. The changes being introduced now mean that people using legal services can call upon a robust and truly independent redress system through the OLC.'

'It is high time consumers of legal services in Scotland had the same protection as their counterparts in England and Wales. Which? will be campaigning for the necessary reforms to be enacted north of the border.'