Sampson: saying no is a core ombudsman skill

The new Legal Ombudsman (LeO) service is set to turn away the rash of complaints about the way certain law firms have been pursuing alleged filesharers, it has emerged.

However, it is instead referring them on to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

A number of complaints about the activities of some firms were among the first received by the service when it opened on 6 October amid a flurry of publicity and organised action by Internet users against firms. Filesharing involves exchanging copyrighted files of music or films. 

They claim that the tactics being used by these firms are abusive, potentially illegal and poorly targeted, catching the innocent along with the guilty.

However, chief ombudsman Adam Sampson has said that while this is “precisely the sort of potential injustice… which we were set up to investigate”, LeO’s rules prevent it from acting.

He explained: “The legislation which underpins the scheme is clear: we are here to look at the service people receive from their own lawyer, not from someone else’s. You can complain to us if you are unhappy with your divorce lawyer, for example, but not that of your estranged partner. No matter how serious the allegations, they are not ours to investigate.”

He continued: “Saying no is a core ombudsman skill. Key is, wherever possible, to suggest some positive action which can be taken. In this case, that action lies with the regulator, the Solicitors Regulation Authority… Saying that we are referring the issues to the SRA and asking to be kept updated about the progress of their investigation may not be the answer the complainants wanted. But it is the best we can do.”

Mr Sampson said he wanted LeO to establish “an early reputation for being helpful”, continuing: “When you are a new service entering into an arena where customer hopes are high, it is all too easy to disappoint. The last thing you need is to go out with an early, high-profile decision which betrays those hopes.”

In August the SRA referred Andrew Crossley of ACS:Law to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal over the conduct of file-sharing litigation (see story).

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