Monday, March 31, 2008

Legal Ombudsman Bill falls short.

My blog is a little late this week, the consequence of attending a seminar in the beautiful city of Budapest organised by my good friend Joao over the weekend. Unlike many an event the PowerPoint presentations were kept to a minimum and for fun at the event one of the organisers Ozegan entertained us with this you tube video.

Chicken, Chicken, Chicken!!!

Anyhow to more serious stuff. The Legal Services Ombudsman Bill was published today. While it is welcome that the bill has finally been published and the Government are moving towards greater regulation and oversight of the legal profession, I have concerns. We are all familiar with the most recent high profile cases, however over the years many consumers have faced serious obstacles getting redress from their solicitors or barristers in relation to complaints. Consumers have even faced difficulties getting another solicitor to take on their case against a solictor. That has been compounded by the failure of the existing self regulatory bodies, the Law Society and Bar Council to be less than adequate in dealing with complaints brought to them by members of the public. This is of course no surprise, these bodies were set up to advance and represent the interests of solicitors and barristers respectively, to expect them to independently adjudicate on claims, allegations and complaints against their own members is ridiculous. Indeed the old legal maxim that no one should be a judge in their own case, somehow got lost when these regulatory systems were evolving.

I have always been of the belief that not only is this in the interests of consumers, it is also not in the interests of these representative bodies currently engaged in oversight or regulation of their members or profession. Self regulation is an oxymoron as I have said before, that does not serve consumers.

This proposed legislation fails consumers because it will force a person who has a complaint with a solicitor/barrister to go through three processes. Firstly they will have to take up their complaint with the individual solicitor/barrister and try and resolve it there. This of course makes sense for all concerned and the hope would be that most issues can be resolved here. But if they get no joy at this stage they will have to pursue the matter with the representative bodies complaints procedures, and if this fails to meet the needs of the consumer, they can bring the matter to the Legal Services Ombudsman. That might seem all very neat, but for the ordinary consumer who is already stressed out with a particular case/legal issue this could all be very stressful, time consuming and costly. The law and legal system can be intimidating for many individuals, so to force peopel to go through

I believe we should follow the model adopted for financial services where the consumer is required to pursue their case with the individual bank/financial services company and where this fails to meet they can pursue the matter with the Financial Services Ombudsman without having to bring the matter to an intermediatory body.

Why can't we have the same for the legal profession? This is something that CAI will be calling for as the legislation proceeds through the Oireachtas.