The BSB will retain responsibility after 6 October 2010 for dealing with complaints about professional misconduct and disciplinary matters but the Legal Ombudsman will act as a single point of contact for all complaints. The Legal Ombudsman will have no power to deal with disciplinary matters but will be responsible for ensuring that any complaints, or parts of complaints, that might relate to professional misconduct are referred to the BSB to deal with.

It should be emphasised that the Legal Ombudsman will not start operating until 6 October 2010 and in the meantime the BSB will continue to deal with all types of complaints about barristers. When the Legal Ombudsman service starts operating on 6 October 2010, it will be able to reach an informal settlement with the complainant and barrister in relation to complaints about poor service but, if necessary, it can formally order a barrister to pay compensation and/or return fees up to a maximum of £30,000 (the BSB’s compensation limit is £15,000). The Legal Ombudsman will also have the power to enforce any financial settlements/orders through the courts which is a power that the BSB does not have. However, the Legal Ombudsman will require that, before submitting a complaint to the Ombudsman service, complainants will first have to complain to the barrister’s Chambers or employer in order to see if a local resolution can be achieved.

The Bar’s Code of Conduct will be amended to place an obligation on barristers (and thereby chambers) to provide information to complainants about their right to complain to Chambers as well as their right to complain to the Legal Ombudsman. The Code will also require barristers to co-operate with the Legal Ombudsman service and disciplinary action may result where a barrister fails to do so which includes a failure to inform clients of their right to access the Legal Ombudsman service. It is therefore important that Chambers ensure that they are operating effective “in-house” complaints procedures in line with Annex S to the Code.

Time limits for submitting complaints

The BSB’s time limits for submitting complaints will continue to be six months from the date of the events giving rise to the complaint
or three months from the date of the chambers decision on a complaint whichever is longer. These time limits will apply to all complaints received by the BSB up until 6 October 2010. When the Legal Ombudsman service starts operating in October, it will apply a longer time limit of 12 months from the date of the event or 12 months from the date on which a complainant could reasonably have known, without taking advice, that there was a reason for making a complaint. The Legal Ombudsman will therefore be able to consider complaints about events that occurred on or after 6 October 2009 as long as those complaints have not previously been considered by the BSB. The changes outlined above will affect all members of the Bar and it is important that the Barristers and Chambers are prepared for them. If you would like more information about the Legal Ombudsman and/or the new obligations in relation to addressing client complaints, please contact: