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British Coal Compensation

Volume 712: debated on Monday 20 July 2009

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government on what date South Yorkshire Police and the Serious Fraud Office commenced their joint investigation into the British Coal litigation; what progress has been made; what is the cost of the investigation to date, apportioned between South Yorkshire Police and the Serious Fraud Office; and when the investigation is expected to conclude. [HL4891]

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO), together with South Yorkshire Police, is investigating allegations of serious and complex fraud in relation to the handling of claims brought under the DTI administered Coal Health Compensation Scheme.

The investigation began in July 2005 and is continuing. It would not be appropriate to give details of an ongoing investigation. The Attorney-General receives regular updates on the progress of SFO cases from Richard Alderman, and she is keen for all investigations to be concluded at the earliest possible point. This must however be balanced with the need to investigate all reasonable lines of inquiry to ensure that all relevant information has been considered fully.

The SFO investigation has cost just over £440,000 to date, from July 2005 when it began, to the present. The SFO is not able to provide a figure for the costs incurred by South Yorkshire Police in this investigation as police resources are allocated and maintained by the individual force.

There are a number of outstanding lines of enquiry to be pursued, but the SFO is working hard to conclude the investigation by the end of the year.

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many complaints were lodged with the Law Society (Legal Complaints Service and Solicitors Regulation Authority) in the British Coal respiratory disease litigation and the British Coal vibration white finger litigation; what was the outcome of each complaint; how much was refunded to each complainant; and how much compensation was awarded to each complainant, broken down to awards from (a) £1 to £25, (b) £25.01 to £50, (c) £50.01 to £100, (d) £100.01 to £200, (e) £200.01 to £300, (f) £300.01 to £400, (g) £400.01 to £500, (h) £500.01 to £600, (i) £600.01 to £700, (j) £700.01 to £800, (k) £800.01 to £900, (l) £900.01 to £1000, (m) £1,000.01 to £1,500, (n) £1,500.01 to £2,000, (o) £2,000.01 to £3,000, (p) £3,000.01 to £4,000, (q) £4,000.01 to £5,000, and (r) over £5,000.01. [HL4892]

The Legal Complaints Service (LCS) has provided the following information:

Number of complaints

Outcome

2,160

Complaint conciliated

673

Complaint not upheld

159

Complaint outside our jurisdiction

43

Complaint resolved without our intervention

565

Complaint upheld

6

Complaint upheld but no action

449

Complaint withdrawn by customer

139

Customer has not responded

109

Referred back to firm under Rule 15

2

Sols reasonable offer

73

Within jurisdiction but investigation declined

1

Complaint referred to SDT

67

Complaint/Allegation noted—Ongoing other action

4

Customer to pursue legal remedy

1

Customer to seek advice/gather evidence

147

closed temporarily

9

Not pursued by Instigator

21

Other

782

Ongoing

5,410

Total

Prior to 2008, the LCS did not keep specific data on the amount of individual awards. A lump sum figure of £602,414.03 was awarded over the period 1 January 2002 to 31 December 2007. Post January 2008, the breakdown is as follows:

Compensation amounts awarded from 1 Jan 2008 to 30 June 2009

£1 to £25

3

£25.01 to £50

3

£50.01 to £ 100

22

£100.01 to £200

83

£200.01 to £300

180

£300.01 to £400

219

£400.01 to £500

284

£500.01 to £600

165

£600.01 to £700

105

£700.01 to £800

110

£800.01 to £900

96

£900.01 to £ 1000

92

£1000.01 to £ 1500

244

£1500.01 to £2000

33

£2000.01 to £3000

24

£3000.01 to £4000

6

£4000.01 to £5000

3

Over £5000

2

Total

1,674

We understand from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) that disciplinary proceedings have been concluded (subject to appeal) in 12 cases relating to 41 individuals. The details of the results are as follows

Outcome of Concluded Disciplinary Proceedings

Fined £1,000 to £5,000

17

Fined £6,000 to £ 10,000

8

Fined £ 11,000 to £15,000

5

Fined £16,000 to £20,000

Fined £21,000 to £25,000

1

Reprimanded

4

Suspended for 6 months to 1 year

1

Suspended for 1 to 2 years

1

Suspended for 3 to 4 years

1

Struck off the roll

3

Proceedings are pending against 18 firms involving 67 individuals. Investigations are ongoing in relation to 19 firms. A further 15 firm investigations have been concluded with no disciplinary proceedings being taken. Investigations by the SRA have been conducted as a result of information received from a number of sources including, but not limited to, complaints received.

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the decisions by the Industrial Disease Committee of the Legal Complaints Service on 24 June (a) to maintain its recommendation to suspend the investigation of all complaints against Raleys solicitors in the British Coal litigation; (b) to write to all complainants giving them the right to ask for their cases to be dealt with but recommending that each case investigation should remain suspended; (c) to advise each complainant that the Legal Complaints Service remains optimistic that at some future time the complaint would be conciliated by Raleys, having regard to the report of Zahida Manzoor, Legal Services Ombudsman, dated 18 June in respect of Marko Sesum (case reference 44331). [HL4893]

We understand from the Legal Complaints Service (LCS) that from 1 April 2009 all complaints against Raleys solicitors, either already in the office or received after that date, would be suspended to await confirmation of the intention of Raleys with regards to any appeal against previous Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal adjudications. Such confirmation cannot be given until publication of the written findings. As at 13 July 2009 the number of complaint investigations suspended involving this firm was believed to be about 396.

We understand that the Legal Services Ombudsman continues to press the LCS to investigate individual complaints without waiting for the written judgment and that progress has been made in this matter. The ombudsman welcomes the LCS decision to write to those who have had their complaints suspended to give them the choice of either waiting until it is known whether Raleys are going to appeal against the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal findings, or for the LCS to begin to investigate their complaint. We understand that the LCS is currently in the process of writing to all former miners or members of their families who have a complaint against Raleys to provide them with an update to the situation.

Both the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Energy and Climate Change continue to support and monitor the LCS in their programme to highlight the issue with coal health compensation claimants.

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will introduce legislation to protect litigants from any misconduct by solicitors in class actions, having regard to the practices adopted by claimants' solicitors in the British Coal respiratory disease litigation and British Coal vibration white finger litigation. [HL4894]

The Government have introduced legislation which allows for proactive measures to be taken to deal more quickly and effectively with cases of widespread wrongdoing in the future. The Legal Services Act 2007, which reforms the regulation of legal services in England and Wales, makes it absolutely clear that approved regulators of legal services are able to take proactive action—short of making orders for redress—where there are a potentially large number of clients who have been affected, but who may not know they have a complaint. These regulatory arrangements will be monitored by the newly established oversight regulator, the Legal Services Board. In addition, the newly established Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) will remove complaints handling from the legal professional bodies, with oversight from the newly established Legal Services Board. The OLC will administer an ombudsman scheme that will provide consumers with a quick, fair and accessible complaints system. This new body will be empowered to make a range of orders for redress, including up to £30,000 redress.

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their assessment of the Law Society's not following its commitment to indemnify retired miners and widows in circumstances where solicitors had not complied with adjudication decisions awarding former clients compensation for inadequate professional service in the British Coal litigation. [HL4895]

Awards made by the LCS are not legally enforceable unless and until the matter has been referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) and the SDT orders payment. Where there have been delays in bringing these matters before the SDT, we understand that the Law Society has made ex gratia advances of compensation to those who had been waiting for an extended period of time. The Law Society chose to do so because of its concern that the delays might in some cases cause hardship to those concerned.

The Government continue to press the Law Society to achieve payment in full of all inappropriately levied charges. The Ministry of Justice and the Department for Energy and Climate Change support the LCS in their work to recover deductions not yet repaid and provide data to them to enable the programme to be rolled out.

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have made an assessment of lessons to be learned from the conduct of solicitors in the British Coal litigation. [HL4896]

The legal profession is independent from the Government and, as such, regulatory issues for solicitors are a matter for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). That said, the SRA and the Government have been working together to determine how to best to assess lessons learned from the current health schemes. We understand that the SRA is considering writing to solicitors involved in miners knee litigation to provide them with the best practice directions in light of lessons learned from the ongoing conduct issues. Ministers are also seeking assurances that the SRA will monitor such activities closely to ensure that early action is taken if it appears necessary, and to keep both the Ministry of Justice and Department for Energy and Climate Change informed of any further developments.