The High Court has quashed a Legal Ombudsman decision after finding its ruling ‘irrational’. It is the first such decision in the ombudsman's history.
Barrister Lincoln Crawford of 12 King’s Bench Walk had been forced to refund half the £780 payment initially charged for a conference with a client in September 2012.
The client, Sadik Noor, had approached Crawford for advice on a public access basis over a dispute with his employer, the UK Border Agency. Noor complained that the meeting lasted two hours rather than the agreed three, and that no advice was given.
Crawford’s lawyer Anthony Speaight QC, instructed by Weightmans, argued that the meeting had been expressly recorded as ‘initial advice’ to be given in conference.
Speaight said Noor had left the meeting prematurely and that Crawford had subsequently informed him he would need more time to read documents before providing definitive advice.
After an initial report by an investigator from LeO, the deputy chief legal ombudsman decided it was ‘reasonable to infer’ that Noor was provided with ‘little substantive advice’ because Crawford did not provide notes from the meeting. This, he concluded, amounted to ‘poor service’ and required that Crawford refund half the money.
However in a judgment published yesterday, Mr Justice Popplewell said the ombudsman had based its decision solely on Crawford not providing a note, despite accepting he was entitled not to have done so.
The ruling said: ‘No inference can logically be drawn as to the extent of the advice given by Mr Crawford from his failure to supply a note to the ombudsman if there was no note taken.’
The judge said the ombudsman’s decision did not make clear what advice was given and did not explain in what respect it was ‘limited’.
‘The decision of the ombudsman is irrational and must be quashed,’ he added. The matter will now be remitted for consideration.
The Office of the Legal Ombudsman said: ‘This is the first time the High Court has overturned one of our decisions in more than three years of operation and after nearly 300 potential challenges. And while we must look at the court’s comments about our reasoning in this case we are pleased that the wider challenges to our methods of making decisions were not upheld and that the court continues to endorse the overall process and approach of the mbudsman scheme.
‘As the court asked that the case be reconsidered we can make no further comment at this time.'