Clause 114

Legal Services Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 21st June 2007.

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The Office for Legal Complaints

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Attorney General, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

We have slipped, without any but the most observant of us realising, into part 6 of the Bill, which I hope even the Whips will think is relatively good progress. [Interruption.] I said, “Relatively good  progress”; the Whips are never entirely happy, but they may be relatively happy at such progress.

We are now dealing with the first clause that establishes the Office for Legal Complaints. I would just like to make the point here, because it is obviously the right place to do so, that this is a welcome initiative. It is a proposal to ensure that there is, as it were, a one-stop shop for legal complaints, so that the public can be pointed in one direction and go through one door, and that any legal problems that may have arisen—a problem with a solicitor’s firm, or with a member of the Bar, or with both, or a problem anywhere else along the legal representation route—can all be examined together. That is a step in the right direction.

Historically, there are different professions, but the boundaries of their activities have been reduced over the years. Rights of audience, for example, in the courts have been widened; in many ways, that has clearly been a good and successful thing. Again, taking the starting point of the Minister in this respect, for the user of the services it seems to me that when there is a complaints system—such a system is necessary in a professional organisation, particularly those paid for with public money—it is better that we have a system that brings together professions that have so far been apart. Some professions have been much better than others in the past; some have been really quite good at dealing with their own discipline and the complaints that they have faced, and some have been far less good. It seems to me that we need to adopt the standard of the best, to ensure that the system is neither overly bureaucratic nor overly delaying but instead is good, efficient and accountable. The clause opens the door to that and puts forward a proposition that I am sure members of the Committee will support, and that members of the public will welcome.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 114 ordered to stand part of the Bill.