The Legal Ombudsman (LeO) has identified its first vexatious complainant, it emerged last night – but it is a lawyer, not a member of the public.
Chief ombudsman Adam Sampson said the lawyer in question was complaining about another practitioner.
He told a meeting of the Public Access Bar Association in London that LeO can deal with vexatious complainants, such as refusing to entertain complaints from them. “If people are abusing the system, I have the powers to stop them,” he said.
Mr Sampson also announced that solicitor Walter Merricks, the one-time Law Society official who set up and for many years ran the Financial Ombudsman Service, has been appointed LeO’s independent complaints assessor. In this role he will deal with complaints about the service offered by LeO.
Mr Sampson confidently predicted that over the next year there would be more complaints about him than any barrister in the room. Asked jokingly by association chairman Marc Beaumont whether LeO would signpost users to the new service, in the same way that lawyers have to signpost clients to LeO, Mr Sampson said it was under discussion.
He said LeO had turned away more complaints than expected in its first few months – mainly because they had not been through law firms and chambers’ internal processes first – and had accepted 3,000. On that basis there would be 10,000 in the service’s first year, less than the 12-15,000 predicted, although he cautioned that the number was “picking up quickly”.
There have now been around 40 formal ombudsman decisions since the first one was made just before Christmas. Mr Beaumont praised Mr Sampson and said that “although it is early days, the system is in very good hands”.
Mr Sampson revealed that he has been in correspondence with Bar Council chairman Peter Lodder QC over a tricky issue that has emerged in a complaint. It concerned a case where a barrister strongly advised a client to pursue a case to court, only to have to pull out shortly before trial because he was double booked. The clerk passed the case to another barrister in the chambers, who strongly advised that it should not go to court.
“If the clerking was inappropriate, whose fault is that?” Mr Sampson asked. “I have no idea what the answer is.”
The Institute of Barristers’ Clerks is calling on the Bar Standards Board to regulate its members, according to a report in The Lawyer earlier this week.