View from the top – Nick Hawkins
Earlier this year our Board, the Office for Legal Complaints, decided to separate the roles of Chief Executive and Chief Ombudsman. In September I began my tenure as the Chief Executive, with a clear remit to lead the Legal Ombudsman. In January, Kathryn Stone will take the reins as our new Chief Ombudsman. By separating the roles in this way, Kathryn will be free to concentrate on delivering high quality and timely decisions on the complaints we receive from consumers of legal services.
It’s no secret that the organisation has had a difficult year from a governance perspective; though it is now in a much better place, thanks to the highly professional stewardship of my predecessor Ian Brack. We await an external review of our governance and will act on any recommendations that will help us to improve. We will also continue to work closely with our sponsor department, the Ministry of Justice, and with the Legal Services Board to ensure we operate both in accordance with the provisions of the Legal Services Act and as an independent public Arm’s Length Body; ultimately answerable to Parliament. I have every confidence that we will succeed in both regards.
The reason I have such confidence is that we have high quality people both on the Board and as members of staff. All are completely committed to our aim of improving today’s services and tomorrow’s industry reputation. I have already been able to listen to telephone calls with customers and to read correspondence; and what is both hugely impressive and reassuring is that every member of the Legal Ombudsman makes their decisions based on evidence, in an impartial manner. This ensures that we can maintain our position as an organisation that’s neither a consumer champion nor a defender of service providers; allowing all parties involved in a complaint to accept that our decisions are made fairly, even if they do not like the outcome.
I have been a qualified barrister for almost 25 years, primarily practising in the criminal field and in international law. This has given me an insight into the legal services sector as a professional. I also have an insight as a consumer, having used solicitors for conveyancing, wills, probate, contractual and employment matters. I have no doubt that this will help me remain focused on why we are here and why it is paramount not to act in a partisan manner. It will help me understand the needs of both legal service providers and consumers.
Looking to the future I see two main challenges. Firstly, we must continue to deliver our core service and do this well. Secondly, we must build on the success of the claims management jurisdiction as we look at becoming an ADR provider and possibly taking on complaints resolutions involving non-regulated service providers. I intend to work with colleagues and build on the successes of the first five years of our existence to ensure we meet these challenges.