The Legal Services Complaints Commissioner, Zahida Manzoor, announced today that she would be imposing a penalty of £275,000 on the Law Society following her decision to declare its complaints handling Plan for the period 1 April 2008 to 31 March 2009 inadequate to secure the effective and efficient handling of complaints.
The Law Society delegates responsibility for complaint handling to the Legal Services Complaints Board and the Solicitors Regulation Authority Board.
The Legal Complaints Service (LCS) has reacted angrily to the fine.
Professor Shamit Saggar, Chair of the Board of the Legal Complaints Service called for the removal of Ms Manzoor from her position as Legal Services Complaints Commissioner. "She has outlived her usefulness and a future for legal consumer redress without her input is called for," he said.
This is the second time in two years that the Commissioner has used her powers to impose a penalty on the Law Society - it previously paid a £220,000 fine for submitting an inadequate Plan for the year 2006/07.
The Commissioner said: "It is with regret that I have to announce a penalty for the Law Society and for the second time in two years.
"LCS is not a value for money service with solicitors paying annually over £31million for it to handle complaints. LCS is inclined to compare itself to 'gold standard complaint handling organisations' but its individual casework costs are high - at around £2,000 per case it is much higher than the average of other complaint handling organisations that this comparison is inappropriate," she said.
Professor Saggar said the decision was "completely unjustified" and distorted the true picture of the effectiveness of the organisation.
"By any reasonable measure this is a completely unjustified and disproportionate action by the Legal Services Complaints Commissioner that brings no benefit to either the legal profession or consumers of legal services. You do not fine a successful organisation, let alone one that in fact leads the way in consumer redress.
"It is also a complete distortion of a picture that actually demonstrates impressive and sustained improvement in the work of LCS over the past two years," Professor Saggar said.
The LSC says that customer satisfaction with their service over the last three years has risen from 70% to more than 85%.
The Board for the LCS was appointed in January 2006 and it has around two more years to run before it closes its doors and the new Office for Legal Complaints is established.
The Legal Services Act 2007 set the stage for wide-ranging reforms to the provision and regulation of legal services in England and Wales. The Act establishes the Legal Services Board, which will be a single independent oversight regulator that will replace the current oversight regulators. The Act establishes the Office for Legal Complaints, which will administer an ombudsman scheme that will deal with all consumer complaints about legal services.