The Legal Services Commission has issued an apology for the maladministration of a financial exercise which caused legal aid solicitors across England and Wales ‘an injustice'.
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has upheld a complaint from the Law Society that the LSC had failed to run a recoupment exercise in a timely fashion and had failed to adequately inform solicitors about the exercise.
The LSC requested that the firms return the funds, in some cases many years after the client cases had been closed and many firms had destroyed older bulky files.
The Law Society, and a host of firms who were affected by the anomaly, made a complaint to the Parliamentary Ombudsman. The LSC will now be required to reconsider representations from individual solicitors who were earlier discouraged from bringing their own complaints, as their matters would be covered by the overall complaint being made by the Society.
Firms who had contacted either the Law Society or the LSC about the 2006 recoupment exercise before 31 December 2008 now have until 17 June 2013 to bring their complaints.
Responding to the Parliamentary Ombudsman's report, Richard Miller, Head of Legal Aid at the Law Society, said: "The Law Society has been tenacious in its pursuit of justice on this and we have been vindicated. The Society's complaints about the delay in the process have been upheld and the Ombudsman agreed that the LSC's communications with firms were inadequate. We are very pleased that solicitors who were affected by the maladministration now have a right to have their cases properly reconsidered. It is disappointing that it has taken five years to resolve, but at least the outcome is the correct one."
The Legal Services Commission is being abolished and replaced with the Legal Aid Agency on 1 April 2013. Any solicitors who meet the criteria and wish to make representations should do so by emailing the LSC at firstname.lastname@example.org by 17:00 on 17 June 2013.