British Coal Compensation

House of Lords written question – answered on 21 April 2008.

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Photo of Lord Lofthouse of Pontefract Lord Lofthouse of Pontefract Labour

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in the light of the report of the Legal Services Ombudsman for England and Wales in the cases of Dennis Rimmer and Norman Dickinson, retired miners whose British Coal industrial deafness claims were dealt with by Beresford's Panel Solicitors Scheme, they will request reports from the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Legal Complaints Service concerning the other 6,796 claimants whose cases were sold by Beresford's to its panel of 10 firms of solicitors between June 2002 and March 2004.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

Reports by the ombudsman on individual cases are confidential to the parties concerned. It would not be appropriate for the Government to have knowledge of or to comment on individual cases.

The legal profession is independent and as such complaints about solicitors are a matter for the Law Society. However, the Government take a close interest in this issue and seek regular updates from the Legal Complaints Service (LCS) and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to ensure that progress is being made.

The Law Society tells us that in respect of the coal health compensation scheme, 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 more than £3.6 million to miners. This figure is expected to rise as more investigations are completed.

It is also our understanding that the Legal Complaints Service has received 3,383 complaints to date, of which 2,538 have been closed. Of the 2,538 closed matters, 162 were upheld and 1,139 were conciliated. The remainder were closed due to reasons such as the customer resolving the matter with the solicitor without LCS assistance, the complaint being outside the LCS jurisdiction; i.e. the complaint was against a union, or the customer not responding.

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.

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