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British Coal Compensation

Volume 697: debated on Monday 17 December 2007

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have made an assessment of the arrangements whereby the Law Society has been paying to claimants in the British Coal litigation the compensation previously awarded to them for inadequate professional service by the adjudicator (Legal Complaints Service), and thereupon taking an assignment of each such debt to facilitate recovery from the solicitors concerned on conclusion of proceedings before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal; and, if so, what steps they will take to encourage such solicitors to make the required payments to their former clients. [HL800]

The legal profession is independent and self-regulating. Therefore, the conduct of solicitors who have represented clients claiming under the coal health compensation schemes is the responsibility of the Law Society.

Following the Law Society's announcement that it will make ex gratia advances on awards that have been made in the complainants favour in miners' compensation cases, 44 individuals have received a total of £35,000 to date. The Law Society recognises that these are exceptional cases and is therefore considering ways to relieve these vulnerable claimants of the burden of seeking enforcement of the awards through the courts.

Bridget Prentice and Malcolm Wicks sent a joint letter to all the solicitors involved in the scheme to remind them again of their obligations to pay back money to claimants where this was taken without their consent.

The Government have welcomed this initiative by the Law Society as it recognises the vulnerability of these miners and their families and helps to ease their burden. There are provisions in the Legal Services Act 2007, which will enable approved regulators to deal more effectively with cases of widespread wrongdoing in the future.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have made an assessment of the regulatory proceedings pursued against solicitors in the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal arising out of their conduct of claims in the British Coal litigation; and, if so, how many such cases are (a) commenced, (b) pending, and (c) concluded; and what was the outcome of each case. [HL804]

The legal profession is independent and self-regulating. Therefore, the conduct of solicitors who have represented clients claiming under the coal health compensation schemes is the responsibility of the Law Society.

Information from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) states that 21 solicitors firms have been referred to the SDT. The SDT has considered matters involving our firms. These matters are now concluded with the following outcomes:

case 1—one solicitor was fined £7,500 and ordered to pay 80 per cent of the Law Society's costs, 11 July 2006;

case 2—two solicitors were each fined £2,500 and three solicitors were reprimanded, 12 March 2007;

case 3—one solicitor was fined £15,000; proceedings against seven other partners were withdrawn with the tribunal's consent, 25 June 2007; and

case 4—this hearing did not relate to alleged misconduct; the tribunal made compensation enforcement orders that had been requested by the Law Society, 1 June 2006.

The combined efforts of the LCS and SRA have led to well over £3 million being repaid to miners. This figure is expected to rise as investigations continue. There are provisions in the Legal Services Act 2007, which will enable approved regulators to deal more effectively with cases of widespread wrongdoing in the future.