Govt to shake up legal professionRadical reform 'must not be watered down'

15 November 2006

Scales of justice

Plans to radically overhaul the monitoring of the legal profession must not be ‘watered down’, Which? has urged.

Currently the Law Society of England and Wales handles complaints about solicitors and barristers are kept in line by the Bar Council.

But proposals in the government’s new Legal Services Bill would strip these professional bodies of the ability to handle complaints against their members.

It proposes setting up an independent Office for Legal Complaints which would then handle complaints against solicitors for poor or negligent service.

Legal profession

Another new body - the Legal Services Board – would also be created to oversee the regulation of the legal profession.

The Bill also proposes allowing outside companies to own law firms for the first time.

Previously solicitors' or barristers' chambers could only be owned by the lawyers themselves as partners.

Which? has long criticised the Law Society's shoddy record on handling complaints and welcomes the Bill.

Shoddy record

Which? campaigner Louise Restell said: ‘Too many consumers suffer from inadequate service and legal advice so Which? is pleased to see that a radical overhaul of the regulation of the legal professions is on the way.  We believe this long overdue measure will help to restore consumer confidence in a system that many feel is letting them down. 

‘The proposals include setting up a new Legal Services Board to oversee the professional bodies and which can step in if they don't self-regulate properly.  A new, independent Office for Legal Complaints will make it easier for consumers to get redress.

‘In addition, by ending the restrictions on the type of businesses lawyers can form it will make it easier for new providers to enter the market, stimulating competition and innovation. 

‘It is important that these reforms are not watered down if they are to bring real benefit to consumers.’