The Lay Observer's role | The Lay Observer for Northern Ireland

The Lay Observer's role

What can The Lay Observer do?

The Lay Observer can determine whether the Law Society has handled a complaint fairly, thoroughly and impartially. He also influences good practice in complaints handling both by the Law Society and ultimately, by solicitors.

When The Lay Observer disagrees with the Law Society, he can ask the Client Complaints Committee to reassess the complaint. In certain circumstances, defined in the legislation and regulations, he can refer cases to the Disciplinary Tribunal, which is appointed by the Lord Chief Justice and is independent of the Law Society and has lay representation.

There are advantages and disadvantages to the service the Lay Observer can provide. The Lay Observer will not act as an advocate or enforce complainants' rights.

Advantages

  • It is private for individual complainants.
  • It is independent to the Law Society.
  • It is free.
  • It can result in the complaint being further investigated.
  • It can lead to improvements in complaint-handling procedures within the Law Society of Northern Ireland.

Disadvantages

  • It is not binding; the Lay Observer can give guidance only.
  • It provides no redress.
  • It is the final step in a complaints process.

To put The Lay Observer’s role into perspective, he considers around 40 complaints each year. Almost all of these are centred around issues of clients' perceptions and expectations of their solicitors.

In addition The Lay Observer reviews one third of the complaints made to the Law Society. This review is to identify patterns and to obtain a more complete picture of what complaints are being raised. This is part of The Lay Observer’s audit role and he audits around 80-90 cases each year.