Law Society dismisses ‘nonsensical’ third-party redress plans
The Law Society has dismissed as ‘nonsensical’ a suggestion that solicitors should have to provide redress to third parties to whom they owe no professional duty.
The Legal Services Consumer Panel’s proposal to create a general right for third parties – those who are not a lawyer’s client – to complain to the Legal Ombudsman was published in a discussion paper last week. The panel said the right should apply except where it would ‘impair the proper pursuit and administration of justice’.
Responding to a consultation on the LeO’s complaints scheme, the panel said current rules are ‘too crude’ and prevent legitimate complaints from third parties. It suggested a right of redress should be available, for example to parties affected by conveyancing delays, beneficiaries under a defective will, victims and witnesses in criminal cases and those ‘hounded’ by lawyers on behalf of corporate clients. Its paper states that lack of access to redress creates weak incentives for fair dealing and ethical behaviour, limits opportunities to learn lessons from complaints and frustrates government policy to promote alternative dispute resolution.
A third-party right of redress, it says, would bring the LeO into line with other sectors, such as financial services and utilities.
However, a Law Society spokesman said: ‘We are very sceptical that it is appropriate for LeO’s powers to be widened in this way. Subject to duties to the court, lawyers owe their main duties to their clients and putting solicitors at risk of having to provide redress to third parties to whom they owe no duty would be nonsensical.’
Chancery Lane accepted that the LeO should continue to be available in cases where solicitors owe a duty of care to third parties, for example, beneficiaries of a will, but said there should be no general rule.
Solicitors’ relationships with third parties are fully dealt with in the code of conduct and breaches can be dealt with by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the spokesman said.