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There is still time to respond to the Legal Onbudsman’s consultation about certification as an ADR Provider under the directive and the plan to allow indefinite complaints about lawyers (subject to discretion over stale complaints). In the meantime, the new legal ombudsman has expressed his views about how the service could be improved and controversy has arisen regarding the departure of the previous Ombudsman, Adam Sampson, following a parliamentary select committee.

The Bar Standards Board removed Ombudsman Services from its list of certified ADR providers, on 9 October 2015, leaving two providers including ProMediate available to deal with consumer complaints about barristers under the ADR Directive in the absence of the Legal Ombudsman. It was understood that this is because Ombudsman Services were not in fact dealing with complaints about lawyers.

We have now been informed (15 October 2015) that the Bar Standards Board has reinstated Ombudsman Services to its list.  We still consider that it would be confusing for lawyers to put forward Ombudsman Services to clients as an alternative to the Legal Ombudsman under the ADR Directive.  Both are ombudsman but clearly the Legal Ombudsman is a statutory body which has duties to report misconduct and publish names of lawyers complained about.  Ombudsman Services does not fulfil the same role.  How will clients know the difference? There is no information on Ombudsman Services’ website about legal complaints that we have seen and we have not in fact seen any evidence as to what qualifications and experience the managers dealing with these complaints will have. This seems important when they are potentially going to be making decisions on cases concerning lawyers! We have now been informed by Mr Shand Smith of Ombudsman Services that they will deal with legal complaints “until such time as LeO is approved” this suggesting that they are an alternative to the LeO, but as stated above, LeO has very different powers to Ombudsman Services.

We guarantee that the mediator dealing with legal complaints will be a qualified person with expertise in this complex and sensitive area.

In any event, LSEW confirmed to me that they will not be removing Ombudsman Services from their guidance even if they do not deal with lawyers’ complaints because techically they are certified to do so. So clients could still be signposted to an ADR provider which does not deal with complaints about solicitors! How does this comply with the code of conduct?

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