You are here

Law Society considers next move over 'outrageous' fine

17 May 2006

The Law Society have labelled the Legal Services Complaints Commissioner's decision to levy a £250,000 fine against them for inadequate complaint-handling as “outrageous” and “unreasonable”.

The Society's president, Kevin Martin said the level of the penalty “flies in the face of logic” and rumours are now circulating that a judicial remedy is being considered to avoid paying the fine.

This could be the start of a bad few weeks for the Law Society as this fine is only for the inadequacy of its complaint handling plan for the coming year. The Commissioner, Zahida Manzoor, is expected to make another decision before the end of June on the Society's performance over the past 12 months, and impose further penalties.

Talking to Solicitors Journal, Ms Manzoor, said: “I have considered the shortfalls in the plan, the representations - both written and oral - made by the Law Society, and decided on the scale of penalties I could levy, which could be up to £1m, what was a fair and reasonable level. I was only looking for very modest improvements in the Law Society's complaints-handling.”

Manzoor said a letter had been sent to the Law Society outlining her decision and reasons for the penalty. She said she would be discussing with the Lord Chancellor's department a timescale for the Law Society to pay the fine.

According to Manzoor, the level of the fine “reflects the fact that, amongst other things, the Law Society has failed to include in its Plan all of my targets at the levels set. For example, I have yet to be convinced why the time that consumers have to wait to receive a letter, setting out the main point of their complaint, cannot be reduced from three months to at least two. I need to mark the failures in the Plan with an appropriate level of penalty.”

However, it was the 'level' that was causing the hierarchy of the Law Society the most distress. Professor Shamit Saggar, chair of the Consumer Complaints Board, said: "This fine is wholly unreasonable. It is outrageously disproportionate to the modest degree of difference between us and Ms Manzoor. The Lord Chancellor himself has noted our continually improving performance. Our proposals for the coming year are ambitious and would significantly benefit consumers. But we cannot commit to unrealistic targets."

Kevin Martin added: "The Law Society has a well-documented track record of improvements in complaints handling. We have established an independent Consumer Complaints Board to oversee it and provided the Board with the budget it asked for. It is difficult to see what more we could reasonably do.”

Categorised in:

Risk & Compliance Financial services & Tax