The Legal Ombudsman has taken the unprecedented step of naming a lawyer who has been subject to 25 complaints in the past two years.
In a statement published today, the Office for Legal Complaints said it was in the public interest to publish details of decisions made against public access barrister Tariq Rehman, of Kings Court Chambers, Birmingham. The chambers' website says it specialises in public access work in UK and European immigration law, nationality and asylum law.
As well as the decisions already made against Rehman, which included 14 findings in the past year, the ombudsman’s office says it is also investigating a number of new complaints. Most have been in immigration law and the majority of times they have involved poor service.
Alleged issues faced by Rehman’s clients include delays, poor costs information, poor advice and poor complaint handling – all of which, the ombudsman stated, pointed to evidence of a ‘systematic failure’. Rehman accused the ombudsman of making a 'misleading and defamatory' statement.
Rehman told the Gazette that the ombudsman had not put the volume of complaints in the context of his case-load, which ranged between 250 and 300 clients each month. He said the ombudsman was using his practice as a 'guinea pig' to test new ways of bringing complaints to public attention.
Steve Green, chair of the OLC board, said the publication of public interest cases was a serious matter because of the impact on reputation, but in this case the lawyer had to be named to prevent harm to consumers.
‘His standards of service, often during crucial immigration cases, are consistently poor; requiring ombudsman intervention time after time,’ said Green in the statement. ‘He is a risk to any potential new clients and we want to exercise our powers now to make sure people are aware of the risks before instructing him to work for them in future.’
In total Rehman’s clients have been awarded £8,087 – with poor service cited in every case.
In one example, a client was quoted £700 for Rehman to advise on an application for naturalisation and paid by credit card. After hearing nothing back from the lawyer in three weeks, the client’s daughter then phoned to cancel and ask for a refund.
She was advised she would receive only £350 which, in any event, was not paid back. It also transpired that £752.50 had been deducted from the client’s credit card.
The ombudsman decided that Rehman should refund her £350 and the additional payment of £52.50, as well as pay £300 compensation.
The Bar Standards Board has been alerted to concerns about Rehman’s record and has referred him to an independent interim suspension panel, convened by the Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service. The panel will meet ‘shortly’ to discuss his case.
Director of supervision for the BSB, Oliver Hanmer, said: ‘We have been aware of the activities of KC Chambers for some time and have been interacting with them in accordance with our supervision strategy. We are doing everything we possibly can to ensure that their clients’ interests are protected.’
The Legal Services Act 2007 empowers the Office of Legal Complaints board to publish details of lawyers or law firms involved in complaints.
In a statement to the Gazette, Rehman accused the ombudsman of giving a 'misleading impression that these complaints have been as a result of only a few clients being dealt with by me and in accordance with the traditional model of how barristers work by receiving instructions from solicitors, when in reality the high volume of cases being dealt with resulted in the perceived high rate of complaints. But despite this in context the complaints are not as the LO have portrayed them. For example they have stated that the work done by me has been consistently poor when I have 97% of satisfied clients.
'I am of the view that this issue needs to be addressed immediately so that a true and accurate picture can be drawn of the level of complaints made against me and I am aggrieved about this misleading and defamatory picture being painted of me. I suggest that the LO immediately publish the number of clients which have been dealt with in the 24 month period talked about which has resulted in 14 complaints this year and 11 in the previous years.'
He added: 'I have been a practising barrister for nearly 15 years and I have not had one complaint in this period from a criminal client that I have serviced in this period. The LO have in one swipe of the pen painted a highly misleading view which is not balanced and which lacks information for any one reading it to make an informed view of me or my chambers.'