In the first case of its kind, the High Court has fined a solicitor, £5,000 + £15,500 costs, for failing to co-operate with an investigation by the Legal Ombudsman.
Howard Robert Gillespie Young, a solicitor who practised in Bolton, Lancashire, for CMG Law failed to provide documents to enable the Ombudsman to investigate a case.
A complaint was first made to the Ombudsman in October 2010 by Mr and Mrs W. They paid £500 Mr Young to make a claim on an insurance policy. They were told that after a certain period of time he could commence litigation to get the money they were owed under the policy. That time period expired and little if anything was done to progress their claim. Mr and Mrs W also instructed Mr Young to assist with an employment tribunal but the case was dismissed when a judge’s patience was stretched by delays caused by Mr Young.
When Mr and Mrs W complained to the Legal Ombudsman, Mr Young failed to provide documents to help with the investigation. This frustrated its progress.
Mr Justice Lindblom said: “Mr Young consciously persisted in his default for about two and a half months, apparently ignoring the Ombudsman’s process entirely. For [the complainants] the delay in their documents being found must have been frustrating, to say the least. Mr Young’s default was the more serious in the light of his unfortunate disciplinary history, in which a pattern of ignoring correspondence and requests for information is plain.”
Mr Justice Lindblom also outlined how, in other cases, he would consider imposing more than a fine: “Undoubtedly there will be cases, though they are likely to be more extreme in their facts than this, in which the court will see no option but to impose a sentence of immediate imprisonment for a failure to comply with a requirement imposed under section 147 of the 2007 Act”.
Commenting on the ruling Chief Ombudsman, Adam Sampson, said: “We regret having to take these measures in this case. Most of the time lawyers cooperate fully with the Ombudsman and want to resolve complaints. But we are pleased with the clear support from the Courts for the Ombudsman’s role. It’s now clear to all that in those rare cases where a lawyer fails to co-operate we can use powers to respond appropriately.”
Mr Sampson added, “I know this will be of great comfort to consumers seeking redress. The legal profession will also be strengthened thanks to the clarity of the ruling in this case.”