To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what steps the Government has taken in relation to solicitors and third parties who have billed clients claiming under the Coal Health Compensation Scheme.
The Government believes it is important that miners who complain to the Law Society under the coal health compensation schemes get the level of service and compensation they deserve. The Government therefore takes a close interest in this issue.
The legal profession is independent and as such complaints about solicitors are a matter for the Law Society rather than Government. However the Government seeks regular updates from the Law Society and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to ensure that progress is being made in dealing with these complaints against solicitors. The Government appointed the Legal Services Complaints Commissioner in 2004 as an independent regulator of the Law Society's complaints handling functions.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has authorised investigations into 60 firms of solicitors; 20 firms have been referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and the SRA has won the first three disciplinary cases heard there. To date, solicitors have refunded over £3 million to miners. This figure is expected to rise as more investigations are completed.
The Government have legislated in the Legal Services Act 2007 to create an independent Office for Legal Complaints, which will remove complaints handling from the legal professional bodies. It will also enable approved regulators to deal more effectively with cases of widespread wrongdoing in the future.
In June 2007, the Government sent a joint letter to all the solicitors involved in the scheme to remind them again of their obligations to pay back money to claimants where this was taken without their consent.
The LCS is taking forward awareness raising initiatives such as the Rother Valley Pilot which involved mailing an information pack to each named individual on the DBERR database of original government coal health compensation schemes COPD and VWF claimants within the Rother Valley parliamentary constituency.
The LCS will now write to all living claimants on the DBERR database in order to raise awareness and to identify all outstanding consumer dissatisfaction within a 12-month period.