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The Legal Services Ombudsman for England and Wales, Zahida Manzoor CBE, has welcomed the Legal Services Act (2007) in her Annual Report published today. When brought into force, the Legal Services Act will create two new bodies, the Legal Services Board (LSB) and the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC).
The Ombudsman reported that in 2007/2008 her Office had exceeded the Governments target of investigating 90% of cases referred to it within 6 months. In fact 91% of its investigations took 4 months to complete and 100% of its investigations were concluded within 6 months.
In 2007/2008 complaints about the Law Societys complaint-handling bodies, the Legal Complaints Service (LCS) and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), made up 91% of the Ombudsmans workload. The Ombudsman was satisfied with the handling of 68% of the LCSs investigations that consumers referred to her. The Ombudsman was critical of the overall performance of the LCS, and in particular poor decision-making in individual cases.
Ms Manzoor said she was pleased to note that LCS has continued to reduce the time they take to deal with the complaints they receive. The Ombudsman was satisfied with the handling of 80% of the SRAs investigations and 80% of the Bar Standards Board investigations that consumers referred to her. The Ombudsman also investigated a small number of complaints regarding the Council for Licensed Conveyancers.
However, in an angry response to Ms Manzoor's criticism of the LSC last month, the Chair of the Board of the LSC, Professor Shamit Saggar called for her removal. He said: "She has outlived her usefulness and a future for legal consumer redress without her input is called for".
Moves to create a state of the art complaints-handling service at the Bar Standards Board (BSB) were endorsed by the Ms Manzoor.
Commenting on the Report, Ruth Evans, BSB Chair, said: "We welcome the findings of the Ombudsman's Report and will continue to work to improve the complaints and disciplinary system to ensure the confidence of consumers and the profession in the service we provide.
"A modern, effective complaints and disciplinary system lies at the heart of our commitment to independent regulation with the public interest as its focus."
It is envisaged that the OLC will be fully operational in 2010/2011.