The High Court has upheld a Legal Ombudsman decision that a barrister dealt with a complaint improperly – even though the original complaint was dismissed.
Andrew Rosemarine had contested the ombudsman’s decision that he responded too late and with an ‘offensive and unprofessional tone’ to a client.
Rosemarine, an immigration specialist based in Salford, had advised Stephen Duffield about an appeal against a Visa rejection for Duffield's Ukrainian wife.
The ombudsman dismissed two substantive complaints relating to information about fees and the quality of service, but determined that Rosemarine should pay £400 in compensation for the distress caused during the handling of the complaints.
HHJ Stephen Davies, sitting in Manchester, last week dismissed the barrister’s claim for judicial review.
Duffield had raised his formal complaint with the barrister in December 2011 but did not get a final response from him until he brought the complaint to the ombudsman in March 2012. The High Court ruled this delay was ‘obstructive’ to the complaint process.
The High Court also ruled that the ombudsman was right to say Rosemarine’s response letter inferred that the client’s behaviour was fraudulent and was ‘offensive and unprofessional’.
HHJ Davies said: ‘I have no doubt that the Legal Ombudsman was fully entitled to conclude that the response letter included repeated allegations of criminality and illegality.
‘In my judgment it is difficult if not impossible to disagree with the Legal Ombudsman’s conclusion as to the tone of this letter. It is plainly offensive, not just in the allegations of fraud and illegality, but also in the allegations that the complaint and its pursuit are vexatious.’
The judge also rejected appeals based on the issue of the ombudsman’s jurisdiction and an allegation of bias.
Chief ombudsman Adam Sampson (pictured) welcomed the court’s decision and said it brings clarity to the complaints process.
‘This outcome means consumers, the profession, regulators and others can trust in the Legal Ombudsman’s approach to resolving complaints,’ he said.
‘This case also shows that a court will only overturn an ombudsman decision if it is so unreasonable that no reasonable person could have made it.
‘This sets a high threshold for bringing a JR and supports our approach of striving for speedy, informal resolutions to complaints, which places fairness, and not legal procedure, at its heart.’