Understanding between Police and Law Society
This is the text of a letter from the Department for Constitutional Affairs to a group of individuals concerned about the lack of accountability to the public of solicitors and the legal system in England. How right they are to be concerned. UJ.
Dated 07 June 2004
Thank you for your letter of 4 April addressed to Mr Grant Morris at the Department for
Constitutional Affairs. I have been asked to reply. Please accept my sincere apologies
for the delay in replying.
Firstly, I would like to thank you for your letter, the contents of which have been noted. I
understand you remain concerned about the ability of the Law Society and its
complaints handling wing, the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors (OSS) to deal with
complaints about its member's adequately.
Firstly, it may interest you to note that the OSS has changed it name. The Law Society
has created a new Consumer Complaint Service (CCS) which was launched on the 19
April, to focus exclusively on the rapid resolution of complaints about poor service and
replaces the OSS in that role.
I hope you will also find it helpful to note that, Lord Falconer has made clear his view
that the solicitor's role as the link between the public and the legal system is vital, but it
will only continue to work effectively if the services and subsequent complaints handling
processes provided by solicitors are carried out to a high standard. To ensure that the
public get the complaints handling service from solicitors that they are entitled to expect,
Lord Falconer has taken a significant step and formally appointed the current Legal
Services Ombudsman Zahida Manzoor, as Legal Services Complaints Commissioner
(LSCC) to oversee the Law Society's Complaints handling processes. Ms Manzoor will
carry out both the roles of Commissioner and of Ombudsman, which will remain
separate. The Ombudsman is concerned with individual complaints while the LSCC will
scrutinise the Law Society's complaints handling processes.
The LSCC has powers to:
• Set targets for the handling of complaints;
• Make recommendations about the complaints systems;
• Require the Law Society to submit a plan for complaints handling; and
• Impose a fine if the Law Society fails to meet the agreed plans for improvements in
The appointment of the LSCC is an interim measure put in place until the review of the
regulation of the legal services market led by Sir David Clementi, Prudential plc
chairman and former Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, is completed. The aim
of the review is to open up the legal services market, promote competition and to
improve the services for the customer. Sir David's report is expected in December
Finally, you raise concerns regarding the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)
between the police and the Law Society which you suggest provides that all complaints
made by a member of the public to the police relating to the conduct of a solicitor will be
passed to the CCS to investigate. The Department understands that there are several
MOU's between the Law Society and other organisations, which clarifies their roles and
responsibilities. The content of the MOU is agreed by the Law Society and that
respective body, and neither the Secretary of State and his officials are able to
intervene in or comment on the contents of an MOU between the Law Society and other
organisations. This is entirely for the Law Society and that body to agree on.
However, to be helpful, officials have contacted the Law Society who advise that, there
is an MOU between the Law Society and Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).
The MOU encourages the sharing of relevant information between ACPO and the Law
Society, however once information is passed on the Law Society would have no
influence on what action the Police would take or vice versa. If the police consider,
after investigation, that there is a case to answer they will place the matter before the
Crown Prosecution Service for action. I am unable to comment as to the level of
evidence the police will require before they take action.
If the police refer concerns about solicitors to the Crown Prosecution Service, they can
also refer the matter to the CCS. The CCS will treat the matter as one of misconduct. If
the CCS make a finding of misconduct based on all the evidence before them, the
Office is able to discipline the solicitor.
I hope you find this information of some use.
Legal Services Development Division