Court ruling clears way for Legal Ombudsmen to move to Birmingham
The legal quango set to bring more than 300 jobs to Birmingham is to start recruiting, after a court case cleared the way for its office to open.
The Legal Ombudsman is a newly-created office that will investigate and resolve complaints made by consumers of legal services. It was set up by the board of the Office for Legal Complaints, and is expected to start looking into cases before the end of the year.
The new office will be headed by chief ombudsman Adam Sampson, ex-chief executive of housing charity Shelter.
It recently signed a deal to occupy one of the prime office locations in the city, when it took 40,000 sq ft of space on the top two floors of Baskerville House in Centenary Square.
But there were fears the opening of the office could be held up after a legal challenge was launched by representatives of the workers currently doing the job the Ombudsman is set to replace.
The court action had been launched by the Law Society, which said it was concerned that people employed in Leamington might not get the legal protection they were due when being offered jobs in Birmingham.
But in a high court case Mr Justice Akenhead said the legal requirements, known as the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) or TUPE laws, did not apply because the Legal Ombudsman was an independent Government body.
The Legal Ombudsman will replace the Legal Complaints Service, which has offices in Leamington Spa and London. The functions of the LCS are due to be transferred by law to the OLC late in 2010. The LCS employs 320 staff in Leamington Spa and 51 staff in London to handle complaints against solicitors.
After the decision was made allowing the office opening to go ahead, Mr Sampson said: “I am pleased that we are now clear about the way in which the Legal Ombudsman will recruit.
"This decision means we will start resolving complaints on time. We have always been clear that our aim is to bring about a new way of resolving complaints and to do that we need the right skills and expertise to be successful.
“We want to develop a high-performing and diverse organisation and hope that many of the skilled and experienced employees of existing complaints handling bodies will want to be part of this new way of working.”
The organisation said it hoped to begin its recruitment drive soon, saying information would be made available on its website. It added it would be working with regulators over the coming months “to make sure this transitional period works as smoothly as possible”.
Des Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society, said: “The Society’s objective throughout has been to secure a smooth handover of complaints handling from the LCS to the Legal Ombudsman that delivers a good service for users of the old and new schemes, and a fair process for existing staff.
“To that end, we trust that the minister, Bridget Prentice, will ensure that her commitment to a TUPE-style arrangement for the transfer of staff is honoured.”
And Deborah Evans, chief executive of the Legal Complaints Service, added: “It is a testament to the professionalism and commitment of LCS staff that productivity at the LCS remains extremely high throughout this period of uncertainty with case closures continuing to drive down the level of work in progress.”