Legal Ombudsman Scheme: Our First-tier Complaints Handling Procedure
1. You may make a complaint direct to us about a barrister or member of staff of No5 Chambers. You do not need to have a solicitor to make a complaint to us (though you may have one if you like).
2. Members of No5 Chambers are independent professionals who join together in Chambers to provide services to themselves and their clients, including this Complaints Handling Procedure. Your complaint to the barrister will be handled on his or her behalf pursuant to this Procedure. However, No5 Chambers are not his or her employer or principal.
3. We encourage you to make any complaint promptly and we may decline to deal with your complaint if it is about something that happened more than two years ago.
4. Our Complaints Handling Procedure is set out below. It is free of charge (there is no charge for making a complaint and we bear the cost of operating it).
5. The procedure is voluntary. However, if you are thinking of making a complaint under The Legal Ombudsman Scheme ("the LeO Scheme") he will usually require you to make a complaint to us first.
6. The LeO Scheme deals with complaints about the service received by the client whom the barrister was acting for in court (or advising out of court) whether he or she instructed the barrister through a solicitor or under the Public Access Scheme. Services provided by barristers in these chambers which are covered by the LeO Scheme mainly consist of advice given (on paper or verbally), documents prepared in the case and court appearances by the barrister (including any advice given, or negotiations which take place, outside court). It also covers complaints about the service provided by our staff.
7. If your complaint involves allegations of professional misconduct or professional negligence it may be that our Complaints Handling Procedure is not suitable to resolve it, or part of it. You will be informed if it is considered that your complaint is wholly or partially unsuitable for our Complaints Handling Procedure for this reason.
8. Any complaint which involves an allegation of professional negligence or any other possible claim on the barrister's insurers, the Bar Mutual Indemnity Fund Limited, will be reported to them even though the complaint is being investigated under our Complaints Handling Procedure. This is a requirement of the insurance.
9. We do expect you to cooperate with reasonable requests for further information and for clarification of your complaint and we reserve the right to complete our Complaints Handling Procedure on the information you have given so far if you persistently or in substance fail to cooperate in these respects or fail to respond to our correspondence in a reasonable time or at all.
10. Our procedure is mainly meant to deal with complaints by clients. If you are not a client, for example, if you are someone who was involved in a case but not the barrister's client (such as a solicitor, a witness or an opposing party); or if you want to make a complaint about a barrister's conduct unrelated to a particular case, you are free to make a voluntary complaint under our procedure which we will consider. However, in these situations your complaint is likely to be more suited to consideration by the Bar Standards Board or may be incapable of fair resolution because of the barrister's duty of confidentiality to his own client. If it is considered that a non-client complaint cannot be resolved satisfactorily under our Complaints Handling Procedure, you will be informed and it is then up to you whether you take your complaint up with the Bar Standards Board.
B: When and How to Make a Complaint
11. You may complain by telephone or in writing. If you would rather speak by telephone, please call Robert Woods, a senior practice manager who is nominated by the members of chambers to receive complaints, on 0845 210 5555.
12. If he is not able to take your call, please send him an email requesting he call you back or leave a message requesting a call-back with reception. You should say that this relates to a complaint but you should not give details of your complaint (or the name of the barrister or staff member) in this email or telephone message. This is to protect your confidentiality.
13. When you speak to Robert he will make a note of the details of your complaint and what you would like to have done about it. He will discuss your concerns with you and aim to resolve them. If the matter is resolved he will record the outcome on our Case Management System, check you are satisfied with the outcome and also record you are satisfied.
14. If your complaint is not resolved on the telephone you will be encouraged to make a formal complaint in writing within the next 14 days to enable an investigation to take place, and we will record a 14 day pause of action by us (e.g. on fee collection) on our Case Management System. If we do not receive a written complaint within 14 days no formal complaint will be recorded and we will continue our usual procedures (e.g. for fee collection).
15. To make a formal complaint in writing send a letter addressed to Robert Woods (which may be in a sealed envelope marked "Complaint" or attached to an email). His contact details are (post) Greenwood House, 4/7 Salisbury Court London EC4Y 8AA (email) [email protected]. To maintain your confidentiality, please do not send a fax to the chambers fax number, an email to the chambers general email address or correspondence to any other member of staff or barrister.
16. Your letter should give the following details:
(1) If possible, our six-digit reference number for your case (found on all fee notes and correspondence from us).
(2) Your name and address. Please ensure you will receive correspondence at this address. Please also give an email address and a daytime telephone number if possible.
(3) Which member of chambers (or staff) you are complaining about.
(4) What you are complaining about.
(5) What you would like done about it.
17. If you have a disability or are not fluent in written English and as a result have difficulty in carrying out this procedure yourself - and you do not have a solicitor - you may ask someone else to make a written complaint on your behalf. We may require proof that you have given him or her authority and on what basis.
C: How we will deal with your complaint
18. All correspondence from us will be to the postal address or email address you have given us. It is up to you to ensure that you receive our correspondence.
19. Robert Woods will acknowledge we have received your written complaint by writing to you as soon as reasonably possible, usually within 2 working days of receipt. ("Working days" means weekdays, excluding weekends and the usual public holidays). He will also send you a copy of this procedure, open a complaint file and make an entry on our Case Management System reflecting that there is a complaint on the case.
20. The member of the board of management to whom ethical issues have been delegated (currently Jonathan Jones QC) will decide who should deal with the complaint. It will be either Robert Woods or a senior member of chambers or staff who is familiar with the type of case involved and with the LeO Scheme. It will not be the barrister or staff member you are complaining about.
21. The person appointed to deal with your complaint will write to you as soon as possible after appointment (usually within 5 working days). In his or her letter you will be informed of the appointment and he or she will ask you for any clarification or further information he or she believes is necessary fairly to deal with your complaint. The letter will also set out the intended procedure to deal with your complaint. Usually our procedure is that appointed person will consider your complaint on the material you have provided, put it to the barrister or member of staff for his or her response and then put the response to you for any further comments you wish to make in answer to it but the appointed person may vary this in his or her absolute discretion.
22. The appointed person will within 28 days (four weeks) of his or her appointment send you a decision letter:
(1) Summarising his or her understanding of your complaint (or complaints).
(2) Summarising what investigations he or she has made
(3) Setting out his or her conclusion on each complaint and brief reasons for the conclusion
(4) Setting out any proposals the barrister makes for resolving your complaint. Possibilities include (a) an apology and/or (b) waiver of fees and/or (c) undertaking further training. If the complaint is against a member of staff any proposals for resolving your complaint will be put forward by his employers.
(5) Informing you that if you qualify under the LeO Scheme, the time in which you may make a further complaint to the Legal Ombudsman.
23. If more time is needed to reach a decision the appointed person will write to you within the 28 day period saying what the extended time for the decision letter will be. This will not exceed a total of eight weeks from the time your complaint is recorded on our Case Management System, unless there is a good reason - which will be explained to you - and you agree.
24. Except in a case of obvious factual error which you point out in writing in 14 days, or in the absolute discretion of the appointed person, our Complaints Handling Procedure ends with the decision letter. If you accept the barrister's proposals for resolving your complaint an agreement to that effect will be recorded on our Case Management System and any steps we have to take (such as waiver of fees, a letter of apology or any further training) will be promptly dealt with. If you do not accept you may, if you qualify for his scheme (see 6, above), make a further complaint to the Legal Ombudsman within 12 months (one year) of our decision letter. Equally, if we have sent you a letter declining to deal with your complaint the 12 months will run from then.
25. There is also an overall time limit for complaints to the Legal Ombudsman which is generally 6 years from the date of the incident complained about.
D: Records and Confidentiality
26. All conversations with you during the Complaints Handling Procedure and all correspondence and documents produced by you or us in the course of our Complaints Handling Procedure are confidential and only for the purpose of carrying out the procedure, except that:
(1) They may be referred to by you or the barrister or staff member involved, in a subsequent complaint to the Legal Ombudsman;
(2) Under a regulatory auditing requirement we must keep records of complaints and permit inspection of them by the Bar Standards Board. We will keep our file for 6 years to comply with that requirement.
(3) You agree that within No 5 Chambers, those implementing any further internal procedures arising from your complaint, and the Management Committee of No5 Chambers - who are responsible for the monitoring of the complaints procedure and considering improvements to it - may be given sufficient information about your complaint to carry out their functions. Where possible information supplied to them about your complaint will be anonymised.
(4) If it is necessary to make a report to Bar Mutual Indemnity Fund Limited you agree that we may provide them with full details of your complaint.
27. So that we can comply with the regulatory requirement to keep a full record of complaints the only way to make a complaint to us about a barrister or member of staff of No5 Chambers is by this procedure. If you (or your Solicitor) make a remark suggestive of a complaint about a barrister or staff member to a member of staff and it is not resolved satisfactorily at the time, you (or he) will be asked if you wish to make a formal complaint and, if you do, you will be asked to put your complaint in writing within 14 days, under the procedure explained above. If you do not, no formal complaint will be recorded.
E: Complaints to the Legal Ombudsman or the Bar Standards Board
28. If you are a Chambers' lay client and you are unhappy with the outcome of our Complaints Handling Procedure you may take your complaint up with the Legal Ombudsman or the Bar Standards Board. In general terms, the Legal Ombudsman deals with service complaints and the Bar Standards Board deals with professional misconduct and discipline. However, our understanding is that the Legal Ombudsman acts as a single point of contact for our lay clients and will refer any professional misconduct or discipline matters to the Bar Standards Board.
29. The contact details for the Legal Ombudsman are:
PO Box 6806
Email: [email protected]
30. If you are not a Chambers' lay client and are unhappy with the outcome of our Complaints Handling Procedure then you may wish to contact the Bar Standards Board:
Bar Standards Board
Professional Conduct Department
289-293 High Holborn
Tel: 020 7611 1444