High Court rejects barrister’s challenge to LeO finding of poor complaint handling

Sampson: our process was fair

A barrister has failed in his judicial review of a decision of the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) that he did not deal with a complaint properly.

LeO has welcomed the ruling of HHJ Stephen Davies – sitting as a High Court judge in Manchester – for setting the bar high when challenging its decisions.

Andrew Rosemarine, who is an immigration specialist practising on his own from chambers in Salford, made a concerted challenge to the reasonableness, fairness and jurisdiction of LeO’s decision, as well as alleging bias. Weightmans instructed John Hendy QC and Marc Beaumont on his behalf.

LeO dismissed the substantive complaint over Mr Rosemarine’s handling of an immigration matter, but said he had provided poor service in refusing to respond to it until he had received various papers from his client, an attitude LeO said was “unnecessary and obstructive” and amounted to poor service.

Further, LeO said the final response he did eventually send was “offensive and unprofessional in tone” and included “repeated allegations of illegality and criminality”, and so also amounted to poor service. He was ordered to £400 in compensation in total and LeO also referred him to the Bar Standards Board because of the contents of the letter.

In R (on the application of Rosemarine) v The Office for Legal Complaints [2014] EWHC 601 (Admin), the judge concluded that LeO’s decision was reasonable given that it was a “simple and straightforward” complaint, while the letter was “plainly” offensive and unprofessional in its tone. He dismissed all the other complaints about the decision as well.

HHJ Davies said there were two possible readings of the letter. “The first is that arrived at by the Legal Ombudsman, where he plainly saw them as amounting to not very subtly concealed allegations of fraud and criminality, in which the claimant sought, by using well-known rhetorical devices, to make an imputation whilst giving himself scope to deny it subsequently should the need arise: in short, a plain innuendo.

“The second is that contended for by the claimant, that they were purely innocent observations. It cannot possibly be said, in my judgment, that the Legal Ombudsman’s conclusion was outside the range of reasonable conclusions.”

Chief Ombudsman Adam Sampson said: “I welcome this judgment and the clarity it brings to the approach of the Legal Ombudsman. The judges, in looking at the last two judicial reviews of our work, have given a vote of confidence to our process, irrespective of the outcome.

“This verdict shows that our process overall was substantively and procedurally fair as the barrister was informed of the complaint being made against him and given (and took) a fair opportunity to make representations prior to the final determination. This outcome means consumers, the profession, regulators and others can trust in the Legal Ombudsman’s approach to resolving complaints.

“This case also shows that a court will only overturn an ombudsman decision if it is so unreasonable that no reasonable person could have made it. This sets a high threshold for bringing a judicial review and supports our approach of striving for speedy, informal resolutions to complaints, which places fairness, and not legal procedure, at its heart.”

James Cornwell of 11KBW represented LeO.


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