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Access to Justice Act 1999


Complaints handling

154.The relevant professional body is responsible, in the first instance, for dealing with complaints about the conduct or competence of one of its members. Solicitors constitute by far the biggest branch of the legal profession, and complaints about them are handled by the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors, which is an arm of the Law Society. The Law Society’s powers to discipline solicitors are contained in the Solicitors Act 1974 (or, in the case of solicitors practices’ incorporated as companies, in the Administration of Justice Act 1985 which provided for that form of organisation). Serious disciplinary cases are heard by the independent Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, which consists of experienced solicitors and lay members appointed by the Master of the Rolls.

155.The Legal Services Ombudsman was established by the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990. The current Ombudsman is Ann Abraham. She is responsible for overseeing the complaints handling procedures of (currently) four professional bodies: the General Council of the Bar, the Law Society, the Institute of Legal Executives and the Council on Licensed Conveyancers. (The Ombudsman would also oversee any other bodies authorised under the provisions of the 1990 Act – see paragraphs 151 above & 169 below). The Ombudsman investigates allegations about the way in which a professional body has handled a complaint against one of its members. She has power to make recommendations to the professional body or the individual practitioner, including recommendations that either should pay compensation or costs to the complainant.

156.The measures in the Act about complaints handling are motivated primarily by concerns, expressed by the Legal Services Ombudsman and others, about the performance of the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors (OSS). The OSS receives over 2,500 cases a month. There are currently 17,000 unresolved cases and a waiting-list of over 6 months. The Ombudsman criticised the OSS in her annual report for 1998, “Modernising Justice”… Modernising Regulation?, published on 30th June 1999.

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