The Legal Ombudsman (LeO) is to show its claws for the first time by seeking a court order to force a solicitor to provide access to documents, it has emerged.
In the first use of LeO’s powers under the Legal Services Act, general counsel Anthony Rich is to instruct counsel to go to the High Court and enforce the right to get full access to relevant documents from a solicitor “who appears to be resolutely unwilling to disclose them”, according to chief ombudsman Adam Sampson.
Mr Sampson said: “We know the solicitor exists. He has, occasionally, answered the phone to our investigators. Also, to judge from the steady flow of new complaints about him, we are receiving (nine cases open and counting), he appears still to be working. This is not a case of a lawyer who has died, absconded or simply shut up shop.”
Mr Sampson said LeO has given the solicitor “every chance” to comply with its requests. “We have written, phoned, sent him warnings about our intention to use our powers, and liaised with the Solicitors Regulation Authority to give them time to intervene.”
Mr Sampson said that in other circumstances, LeO may have gone ahead without the solicitor’s co-operation. “We make our decisions on the balance of evidence before us and if one party chooses not to come forward with evidence to rebut that provided by the other party, they can hardly complain if our decision goes against them.”
However, one of the complaints is from a man “desperately trying to get access to his file, which the solicitor still holds, so that he can respond to a coming court action”.
Mr Sampson added: “Our solicitor could – should – simply release the file. If he doesn’t accept our power to demand it from him, we will simply have to ask the High Court to enforce it.”