The Law Society has declared itself vindicated after the Legal Services Commission apologised for ‘maladministration’ that caused ‘injustice’ to legal aid solicitors.
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman upheld a complaint made by the Society in 2008 that the commission failed both to run a recoupment exercise in a timely fashion, and to inform solicitors adequately about it.
Chancery Lane said the ruling vindicates its concerns about the process to recoup payments on account, undertaken from 2006. The LSC requested that firms return funds, in some cases years after client cases had been closed and many firms had destroyed older bulky files.
The ombudsman said the delay in carrying out the recoupment exercise was ‘so long’ and some of the commission’s communication ‘so poor’ that the process was ‘maladministrative’.
The ombudsman’s report found there were ‘some situations’ in which the commission’s delay and communication failures caused an injustice to solicitors. It added: ‘The commission’s delay jeopardised their ability to administer the legal aid fund properly and delayed their ability to account for money they had paid from it.
‘That was an injustice to the taxpayer and to citizens more generally, on whose behalf the fund is ultimately administered.’
The ombudsman recommended that the LSC acknowledge its mistakes and apologise, but it said that in most cases a financial remedy would not be appropriate.
The LSC must now reconsider representations from solicitors previously discouraged from bringing their own complaints, as their matters would be covered by the Society’s complaint.
The Society’s head of legal aid Richard Miller said: ‘The Society has been tenacious in its pursuit of justice and we have been vindicated.
‘We are very pleased that solicitors affected now have a right to have their cases properly reconsidered. It is disappointing this has taken five years to resolve, but at least the outcome is the correct one.’
The LSC has published a statement, with details of how to make representations.