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Last Updated: Monday, 17 October 2005, 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
High street legal shake-up hailed
Supermarket
Consumers will get 'a better deal', says Lord Falconer
Shoppers will be able to get legal advice as easily as "buying a tin of beans", under government plans.

The so-called "Tesco law" will allow businesses, such as supermarkets, to own and run legal firms.

A White Paper outlining the government's plans will also strip the legal profession of power to handle complaints against its members.

Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, says he is to fast-track moves to regulate "ambulance chasing" law firms.

'A better deal'

Bridget Prentice, minister for the Department of Constitutional Affairs, said: "I don't see why consumers should not be able to get legal services as easily as they can buy a tin of beans."

A new independent body, the Office for Legal Complaints, will be set up to carry out investigations of barristers and solicitors.

The contents of the White Paper is based on recommendations made by Sir David Clementi, former deputy governor of the Bank of England.

It is extremely heartening that the White Paper puts consumers at the heart of the reforms
Steve Brooker
National Consumer Council

But ministers have gone further than those proposals by saying lawyers should be able to set up firms with other professionals, such as surveyors and accountants.

"Our proposals will ensure that consumers get a better deal," said Lord Falconer.

"We need to reform the legal services market to put consumers first. People can be confident where they do have a complaint against a lawyer, then it will be looked at independently and not by other lawyers.

"We hope that over time it will change the ethos of the way lawyers operate."

Strict tests

Under the plans, a Legal Services Board will replace the current "maze" of regulators.

The Law Society and the Bar Council - the professional bodies of solicitors and barristers in England and Wales - will be allowed to remain as regulators if the Legal Services Board is satisfied with the quality of their service.

The "Tesco law" plans will mean non lawyers can own and run law firms for the first time.

However, there will be strict tests to ensure they are fit to operate - addressing concerns that opening up the market will allow criminals and other undesirables to set themselves up as law firms.

Lawyers could face fines of up to 20,000 from the Office for Legal Complaints under the plans - a significantly higher sum than current limits.

Warning

In 2004-5 the Law Society made an average award of 406 for complaints, compared with 428 from the Bar Council.

Consumer group Which? said the plans were "a great victory for consumers".

Steve Brooker, of the National Consumer Council, said: "It is extremely heartening that the White Paper puts consumers at the heart of the reforms. It deserves a big welcome."

But Kevin Martin, president of the Law Society, said if the government was serious about "light touch regulation" it would be "better for regulatory powers to be vested" in the Law Society, Bar Council and the Institute for Legal Executives.



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