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Legal Profession (Complaints)

Volume 448: debated on Tuesday 11 July 2006

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what performance standards she has set for the length of time a consumer complaint to the Law Society takes to be resolved, including where the solicitors refuses to accept decisions of the Law Society Adjudication Panel and the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. (83899)

I will reply to the hon. Member as soon as possible.

Substantive answer from Bridget Prentice to John Mann:

None. The legal profession is independent and self-regulating, and as such I have no powers to set targets for the Law Society. However, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State appointed Ms Zahida Manzoor, as the Legal Services Complaints Commissioner (LSCC) in February 2004. The LSCC has powers to set targets for the handling of complaints, make recommendations about the complaints systems, require the Law Society to submit a plan for complaints handling; and impose a fine if the Law Society fails to meet the agreed plan for improvements in complaints handling.

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (1) how many solicitors have refused to accept decisions of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in each of the last 10 years; (83900)

(2) what rights of redress are available to those who have won decisions at both the Law Society Adjudication Panel and the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal;

(3) what sanctions are available against solicitors who refuse to accept decisions of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal;

I will reply to the hon. Member as soon as possible.

Substantive answer from Bridget Prentice to John Mann:

Depending on the matter in question, respondents before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal have an automatic right, under the Solicitors Act 1974, of appeal to the Master of the Rolls or the High Court. The information on the number of appeals against decisions by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal for the last 10 years is unavailable, however, the figures for the last five years are as follows:

Number of appeals

2001

9

2002

8

2003

10

2004

12

2005

9

In the absence of an appeal, an order of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal is immediately enforceable as a High Court order. If the solicitor is fined by the Tribunal, the fine is enforced by the Treasury Solicitor—through the courts if necessary. If the solicitor is struck off or suspended from practice, that decision would be immediately recorded with the Law Society and the solicitor would be unable to practise. In the event that he continued to practise as a solicitor following an order suspending him or striking him off the Roll of Solicitors, he would be committing a criminal offence under the Solicitors Act and may be prosecuted in the criminal courts.

The Law Society’s Adjudication Panel deals with redress issues and is able to award complainants up to £15,000 in compensation. If a solicitor refuses to accept a decision of the Adjudication Panel, including a decision that he pay compensation, it is open to the Society to prosecute him/her before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. The Tribunal cannot award compensation, but if the Law Society has previously awarded compensation, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal can make that award enforceable as a High Court order.