Elisabeth Davies

Davies: “The current blanket prohibition is unfair”

There is scope for the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) to offer redress to third parties, as long as the complaints involved could be “clearly and tightly defined”, a report by a LeO working party has found.

The working party, chaired by then chief executive Adam Sampson, included representatives from the Legal Services Consumer Panel, the Law Society and the Council for Licensed Conveyancers.

Their report is still to be published, but minutes for last month’s Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) board meeting reveal the report’s conclusion that there were “some cases” in which access to redress from LeO could be helpful, if the circumstances could be “clearly and tightly defined”.

The minutes said it was agreed at the meeting that it would be “premature to include third-party complaints in any consultation required for rule changes to comply with the EU ADR directive,” coming in next year.

The meeting also noted that “secondary legislation would be needed to address any categories of potential third-party complaints”, but it agreed that LeO would continue to work with stakeholders on the issue and an update would be presented to the board in July 2015.

Elisabeth Davies, chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, said: “We’ve always accepted that only some such complaints should be permitted, but maintained the current blanket prohibition is unfair – the OLC’s agreement with this principle is an important breakthrough.

“This is no small matter – 1,680 third party complaints were turned away by the Legal Ombudsman in 2013-14. We look forward to making further swift progress on these issues with the LeO and our stakeholders during 2015.”

LeO set up the working group in September last year, amid reports of lawyers harassing third parties over alleged debts, violating their privacy and doling out abusive treatment in court.

The move came in the wake of a commitment the ombudsman made in 2012 following a review of its scheme. This review had put forward various options, with LeO preferring a ‘list’ approach to the kind of complaints that would be caught, rather than allowing all third-party complaints or those where there was a direct duty of care.

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