Belfast Telegraph

Call for new watchdog to monitor legal profession

By Michael McHugh

An Independent watchdog with the power to strike off lawyers should be established in Northern Ireland, it has been claimed.

A cross-border group called the Victims of the Legal Profession Society said self-regulation of the legal profession leaves clients frightened to take up complaints.

Members met Northern Ireland Finance Minister Sammy Wilson earlier this month.

Spokesman Joe Ferris said: "I would like to see an independent body being established as a minimum because quite a number of people are frightened of solicitors."

A Legal Services Review Group chaired by Professor Sir George Bain has produced recommendations on regulating lawyers. They include reforming the complaints handling system of the Law Society and the Bar Council, regulatory bodies, the creation of a Legal Services Oversight Commissioner and other measures on competition.

Mr Ferris, a nurse from Omagh, Co Tyrone, has had problems transferring land dating back 24 years. His group is based largely in Co Tyrone and Donegal, and has 50-60 members.

"I would like to see an independent regulator similar to the Nursing and Midwifery Council, where whenever a nurse is found guilty of a breach of trust, the person is struck off," he added.

The Law Society said it had offered to meet Mr Wilson, but it had received no response.

A spokesman added: "The president of the society has written to the minister today, again offering to meet with him to discuss his concerns."

Mr Wilson said he had heard concerns from many constituents about the actions of their solicitors.

"Meeting with this group of individuals has crystallised in my mind the need for changes to be made to the way in which the legal profession is regulated," he said.

Regulation responsibility is to transfer from his department to Justice Minister David Ford.

"I intend to recommend to him that he has a close look at Bain, as I believe that we can do more to strengthen the existing system," he added.

"Users of legal services should have access to a complaints system that is open, transparent, and independent and I hope that any future legislation will reflect those aims.

"It cannot and must not be left to solicitors to regulate themselves.

"The complaints which I receive about the Law Society indicate that it is not giving the confidence required to those who feel they have been let down by their solicitors."

Popular