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Which? Press Release 2001

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Which? Legal Services Reform consultation response 2006

Watchdogs call for regulation shake up of legal profession

21 March 2005

As three top consumer watchdogs join forces to lobby for the government to introduce tougher regulation for lawyers, a survey shows three in ten people feel they are getting poor value for money from their solicitor.

Heads from Which?, Citizens Advice and National Consumer Council (NCC) will all speak to an audience of legal professionals and politicians at the conference: 'The future of legal services putting consumers first', organised by the Department for Constitutional Affairs.

New research carried out by Which? shows eight in ten people have used a solicitor and:

  • A third of those don't feel they are getting a good service.
  • Almost a quarter of those surveyed think their solicitor did not listen to their opinion.
  • Almost a third did not feel well informed about how much they would be charged for their solicitor's services.

Citizens Advice has raised concerns about unregulated 'claims farmers' who handle personal injury cases. In their report No win, no fee no chance they report widespread misselling of supposed 'no win, no fee' deals, and high costs that are often passed onto consumers as a result of poor advice and service.

The lobby is calling for major reform to the current systems of self regulation, the introduction of an independent regulator to cover the whole of the legal services industry and available sanctions to tackle firms providing poor service as recommended by the recent independent review undertaken by Sir David Clementi.

Changes should also include:

  • Direct access to a single complaints service.
  • A publicised list of upheld complaints.
  • Less restrictive practices in the way that lawyers can offer services to the public.

Additional research published in July 2004 and August 2001 found that people are getting a poor service from solicitors. The Legal Services Ombudman itself has said that there is one complaint for every six solicitors in England and Wales as people complain about costs, treatment from legal professionals and delays one person said "it would have been quicker to do a course in conveyancing."

Nick Stace, communications director, Which?, said:

"Self-regulation isn't working. People complain to Which? time and again about the second rate service they receive from solicitors; often during stressful times. Other professions can't get away with this type of behaviour and it's time for the government to rein in this complaint-riddled industry."

Teresa Perchard, director of policy, Citizens Advice, said:

"It is now up to the legal industry to show they can work constructively with a new regulatory regime and put consumers' interests first. We urge the government to ensure that the new regime covers the whole of the legal industry, especially claims farmers, insurers, assessors and other firms giving consumers direct legal advice."

Deirdre Hutton, chair, National Consumer Council said:

"An independent legal services regulator will not only give people the greater protection they deserve, but it will also help restore confidence in a system that has failed consumers for too long. If the new regulator is to be successful, it is vital that it sets strict standards, exerts close scrutiny and, where necessary, is ready to bare its teeth."

Notes to editors:

Which? fights for consumers' rights in two ways. We campaign to make sure consumers get treated fairly. And we publish magazines, books and websites to help people make the right choice for them.

The Citizens Advice service is a network of independent charities that helps people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more information see www.citizensadvice.org.uk. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.

The National Consumer Council (NCC) is an advocacy organisation, conducting rigorous research and policy analysis to investigate key consumer issues, and work with public service providers, businesses and regulators to make change happen. We have strong connections within government, but our independence means we are ready to challenge any organisation that does not give consumers a fair deal.