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Committee (7th Day)

Part of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 1st February 2012.

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Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench 6:15 pm, 1st February 2012

My Lords, Amendment 166ZA in this group is in my name. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for expressing support for it.

The amendment would exempt solicitor-to-solicitor referral fees from statutory prohibition. I am puzzled as to why the Government think it is appropriate to impose a statutory prohibition on such referral fees. I am puzzled for two reasons. First, there is a public interest in solicitors having an incentive to transfer a case-with the consent of the client, of course-to another solicitor; for example, if the latter solicitor has greater expertise or if the former solicitor will not be able to deal with the case expeditiously. Secondly, any such referral fees from one solicitor to another are regulated by the SRA, which has ample powers to impose sanctions on either of the solicitors if there were any abuse of proper professional standards to the detriment of the consumer.

I ask the Minister-and it is a genuine inquiry-why, in the light of these factors, it is necessary or appropriate to regulate referral fees paid directly from one solicitor to another.