Legal Ombudsman Review of 2022 Scheme Rules – Law Society Response

Proposals

The Legal Ombudsman (LeO) held a consultation in February 2022 on its review of the LeO program rules.

It proposes changes in six key areas of the rules, along with some minor technical changes:

  • a review of applicable time limits for filing a complaint
  • situations in which LeO may refuse to accept a complaint
  • when an ombudsman can exercise discretion to dismiss or terminate a complaint
  • wider delegation of decision-making
  • transmission of files to a mediator
  • application fee

The rules were last extensively revised in 2012.

Our point of view

We agree that a rules review is long overdue, given the time since the last full review and existing concerns regarding LeO’s performance.

We are pleased that several proposed changes to the rules reflect the reforms we have advocated for, such as:

  • early triage to triage complaints outside of LeO’s jurisdiction prior to acceptance for investigation
  • situations in which LeO may exercise its discretion to dismiss or terminate complaints – for example, where a service provider has made a reasonable offer
  • wider delegation of decision-making in certain circumstances

All of this will help drive faster results, reduce client journey times, and prevent more cases from accumulating in the pre-assessment pool (backlog awaiting investigation).

We therefore broadly support the proposals of the consultation.

What this means for lawyers

Depending on the proposals put forward, this could mean:

  • a reduction of the period for filing a complaint to one year from the date of the omission or knowledge (the latest date being retained). We consider this to be a reasonable time to file a complaint
  • some complaints will be rejected at an early stage and will not be accepted for investigation. For example, an ombudsman could refuse to accept a case if he considers the complaint to be frivolous or unfounded.
  • an ombudsman may consider dismissing a complaint if satisfied that the complainant has suffered no significant financial loss, distress, inconvenience or other harm. This would allow an ombudsman to determine whether the investigation is a proportionate use of resources, given the likely impact on the client. An ombudsman would retain discretion whether or not to dismiss a case after the parties have had an opportunity to make representations
  • a complaint could be rejected if a reasonable revised or increased offer is made by a company during an ongoing investigation and the complainant decides to reject that revised offer. If a file is rejected during the investigation process due to a reasonable offer, the file fee will not be applied
  • In some circumstances, an ombudsman’s final decision is not required on a case if no substantive issue (such as an error of fact or law, or the availability of additional new evidence that was not available before investigator’s decision) was raised in response to the investigator’s findings. In these circumstances, the case would be deemed resolved by the findings of the investigator

LeO is also considering longer-term proposals, including:

  • the delegation of decision-making powers to the mediator
  • possible changes to how application fees are charged – this will likely be subject to further consultation

Next steps

The consultation closed on April 13, 2022.

LeO will analyze all responses and decide which proposals to take forward.

Read the consultation on the LeO website