MPs question new Law Society board chair’s “conflict of interest”

Betts: Asked for government response to concerns

MPs have raised concerns about a possible conflict of interest that the incoming local government ombudsman may have with another new role as chair of the Law Society’s management board.

Solicitor Amerdeep Sohal is due to become chair at the turn of the year, with the management board the primary body that sits below the Law Society council and is responsible for implementing the strategy and business plan approved by the council.

A sitting judge too, she is also the government’s preferred candidate for the role of local government and social care ombudsman and chair of the Commission for Local Administration in England.

After holding a pre-appointment hearing with her, the chair of the levelling up, housing and communities select committee, Clive Betts, wrote to minister Lee Rowley to endorse her appointment

However, he went on: “Given the quasi-judicial functions of the ombudsman service, there is a risk of a perceived or actual conflict of interest which could arise from Ms Somal holding a role at the Law Society or continuing to work as a judge whilst being the local government and social care ombudsman.”

The committee wanted more detail of Ms Somal’s role at the Law Society, such as the time commitment and pay, and whether she intended to sit as a judge at any point during her term in office.

Mr Betts asked for the government’s assessment of the potential for a perceived conflict of interest – and, if there was one, how Ms Somal and/or the government would deal with it.

“Without clarity on these questions, we would be concerned about Ms Somal’s credibility in the role. However, we have endorsed Ms Somal because we are confident that you will be able to provide sufficient clarity in your response.” He asked for it by 16 October.

The committee raised the issue in the pre-appointment hearing and she replied that she did not see a perceived conflict, pointing out that the role was not the same as being president of the Law Society.

Ms Somal said she intended to retain her appointment as a judge of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal but would not be sitting other than on an infrequent basis to maintain her continuing professional development.

In its report, the committee said it was satisfied that the solicitor has “the professional competence and personal independence required” for the role, which she is set to take up next February.

Ms Sohal is a former chief Crown prosecutor, leaving the Crown Prosecution Service in 2003, and is now the complaints commissioner to the financial regulators.

She is also chief commissioner at the Data and Marketing Commission and sits on the board of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, having held a range of other non-executive roles over the past 20 years.

We have approached Ms Sohal for comment. The Law Society said it was not an issue for it to comment on.

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