Area of law: Family law
Complaint reason(s): Failure to keep the complainant informed; failure to follow instructions
Remedy: Compensation payment (£500) for stress and inconvenience
Outcome: Ombudsman’s decision rejected by the complainant
Ms K employed a law firm in 2001 to help sort out her divorce. As part of the settlement, her ex-husband was ordered to sign over a French property that belonged to both of them. This should have been done within eight weeks of the order. But seven years later, the transfer still hadn’t been completed.
Mrs K blamed her lawyer. She complained that the firm hadn’t advised her properly about how and when the transfer of the French property should have been completed, didn’t pursue her ex in court as instructed, was rude about her in an email, and failed to respond properly to her various queries and letters of complaint. Nothing less than a hefty compensation payment would assuage her feelings of frustration, loss of dignity and hurt pride.
The problem was that she’d used Legal Aid when she hired the law firm, which they said limited what they were being paid to do for her. Chasing down French documentation relating to the property and applying to an English court to get a judge to sign these on behalf of an uncooperative ex-husband were not on their to-do list. These things, they told her repeatedly, were up to her and her estranged partner to sort out between them. In other words, they said they had done all they reasonably could and should in the circumstances.
The Ombudsman didn’t think the first two elements of the complaint were justified. The firm, having helped secure the original order, did not have a continuing duty to police its implementation. But the Ombudsman did decide that the firm should write a letter of apology to Ms K for their failure to respond adequately to her correspondence, and pay her £500 in compensation for the stress and inconvenience caused.
Mrs K didn’t accept this decision, so the case was closed.