Law Society calls for Legal Ombudsman to award costs against “vexatious” complainants

The Law Society has called for changes to the Legal Ombudsman’s fee structure to include awarding costs against vexatious complainants.

The Society has also called on the Ombudsman to protect small firms and reduce incentives for settling complaints without merit before they reach the Legal Ombudsman. The Ombudsman can currently charge £400 case fees even when a complaint is not upheld.

Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: “A fair, impartial and efficient Legal Ombudsman is vital to our legal system. LeO plays an important role in ensuring consumer protection and public confidence in the legal sector and justice system. The Law Society supports “polluter pays” in principle but believes that the case fee must be applied more flexibly to remove the perverse incentive to settle vexatious complaints early and to support small firms and those who provide fee advice.

“Where firms are subject to LeO complaints, the process must be fair for all parties and not skewed against small firms, sole practitioners, charities and those who provide pro bono advice. Vexatious claims against solicitors must be nipped in the bud and the most unreasonable complainants should contribute towards the cost of the complaint handling so that LeO can concentrate its resources on its core work.”

The Legal Ombudsman has indicated that it will review its case fee structure later in 2016. The Law Society also has recommended that:

  • LeO considers reducing its case fee so that small firms, sole practitioners and charities are not disproportionately penalised by the system.
  • LeO considers, as part of the review, introducing an exemption to the case fee in some limited circumstances, for example in relation to complaints against those who provide pro bono work.
  • LeO utilises its existing powers to award costs against complainants where complaints are clearly vexatious.
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