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Head of legal complaints body must not be a lawyer

Editorial Staff

The UK government has set up a new body to deal with complaints against lawyers. The six-figure job has just been advertised - with the stipulation that it must go to a non-lawyer.

The Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) is a brand new organisation being set up as a result of the Legal Services Act 2007. The OLC will be responsible for the establishment of an Ombudsman service and provide a robust governance structure within which the Ombudsman will work.

The establishment of the Office marks a significant transformation in the regulation of legal services by separating from it the consideration and resolution of complaints from individuals about legal services.Working with the Chair and OLC Board, the Chief Ombudsman, who will also be Chief Executive of this new Non Departmental Public Body, will lead in the design of the organisation, establishing its culture and setting the tone for dispute resolution in the sector.

This is a high profile, national position with responsibility for all operational activities. In addition, you will lead the establishment of a new framework and through investigation and case work activity will establish the precedents for the resolution of complaints against legal service providers.This role requires a track record of successfully providing transformational leadership within a service provision environment. You will also need the ability to make robust, evidence based decisions leading to proportionate redress for service users. You will play a vital role in securing the confidence of a range of stakeholders.

This is a potentially sensitive and complex area of dispute resolution which requires experience of risk management and a commitment to continuous improvement.To succeed in post, you will need to command the confidence of the OLC Board, the Legal Services Board, government departments, approved regulators and consumers. As Chief Ombudsman you must be ready to take responsibility for your decisions and to exercise independence, while adopting a collaborative approach with a range of organisations and individuals.

You will demonstrate strong leadership, strategic vision, intellectual strength and energy and enthusiasm. In return, the role offers an unrivalled opportunity to shape a new organisation and to act as a key public face of legal services reform.NB. Please note that as stipulated by the Legal Services Act the Chief Ombudsman must be a “lay person” as defined in the Legal Services Act, Schedule 1 (4).

Legal Services Act, Schedule 1 (4)

(4) In this Schedule a reference to a “lay person” is a reference to a person who has never been—(a) an authorised person in relation to an activity which is a reserved legal activity;(b) a person authorised, by a person designated under section 5(1) of the Compensation Act 2006, to provide services which are regulated claims management services (within the meaning of that Act);(c) an advocate in Scotland;(d) a solicitor in Scotland;(e) a member of the Bar of Northern Ireland;(f) a solicitor of the Court of Judicature of Northern Ireland.

So to summarise: the person who cannot have been a legal practitioner in the UK will create a disciplinary regime, including compensation assessment. The implication (from words such as "chair" and "working with") is that this advertisement is drafted by the government and the post is a politically driven appointment created under an Act that many in practice see as having been designed to dismantle much of the solicitors' branch of the legal profession, driven by barristers in government.

It is interesting to note that foreign lawyers are not precluded.

That, coupled with the implication that a UK qualified lawyer could not be trusted to be independent is a slap in the face to an honourable profession.