Look out for the lion: LeO takes solicitor to Court for contempt
Earlier this month, the Legal Ombudsman reported that it had taken a solicitor to Court for failing to comply with one of its decisions. The solicitor received a £5,000 fine in addition to the £1,500 compensation he was directed to pay to his former clients. This case was also reported in a programme on Radio 4.
This is not the first time the LeO has taken such steps. In 2011, a Bolton-based solicitor was the subject of a High Court committal application following his failure to comply with a statutory notice requiring him to provide information to the LeO as part of an investigation. Last year, a Medway-based solicitor was subject to similar High Court proceedings, again for failing to comply with a statutory notice issued by the Ombudsman. Both solicitors have subsequently been the subject of SDT proceedings.
What is novel about this most recent case is the basis of the application: both of the solicitors in the earlier cases were subject to proceedings for their failure to comply with a statutory notice issued by the Ombudsman, whereas the most recent case involved failure to comply
with an Ombudsman’s decision.
This is an important distinction. LeO must compel cooperation with its investigations in order to be effective. However, it does not have to compel lawyers to comply with its decisions. The use of a committal application to compel compliance with a decision demonstrates the Ombudsman’s determination to be seen as effective in ensuring consumer redress.
And LeO is not unwilling to exercise its powers in relation to financial remedies either. In the press release reporting the above case, it adds that it has recovered £97,000 by enforcing unpaid awards on behalf of complainants this year alone.
These cases highlight the risks associated with failing to engage with LeO. The message then is quite clear: ignore the LeO at your peril.