1.This Report follows the third pre-appointment scrutiny hearing which the Justice Committee has held with a preferred candidate for Chair of the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) since the post was established. After the first of those hearings, in 2008 Elizabeth France CBE was appointed as the first incumbent. She was succeeded by Stephen Green in 2014. We express our appreciation for the work Mr Green has undertaken in the role.
2.The Chair of the Office for Legal Complaints is one of six posts which are subject to pre-appointment scrutiny by the Justice Committee. The Chair is appointed by the Legal Services Board under Schedule 15 to the Legal Services Act 2007 (henceforth “the 2007 Act”). The Chair must be a lay person (i.e. not a lawyer) and appointment is subject to the approval of the Lord Chancellor. The Chairman of the Legal Services Board (LSB), Sir Mike Pitt, wrote to our Chair on 17 October 2016 to consult us in advance of the launch of the recruitment campaign to find a successor to Mr Green. On 14 March 2017 Sir Mike wrote again to inform us that the recruitment process had resulted in Wanda Goldwag being selected as the LSB’s preferred candidate, and that she had been approved by the Lord Chancellor. He also sent us copies of the candidate information pack, the job advertisement, and Ms Goldwag’s curriculum vitae and conflict of interests declaration form. In relation to the last of these, Ms Goldwag subsequently wrote to the Chair on 20 March, before the pre-appointment hearing, to say that through an oversight the declaration had omitted a small shareholding (less than £10,000) in Kings Court Trust, an estate administration business regulated by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers, as a consequence of her role with Smedvig Venture Capital. We publish all these documents with this Report.
3.In accordance with the usual procedures, we held a pre-appointment scrutiny hearing with the preferred candidate on 22 March 2017, as soon as practicable after receiving information about her.
4.The constitution and functions of the Office for Legal Complaints and the Ombudsman scheme which it is charged with administering and overseeing are set out in the 2007 Act. The OLC, with between six and eight members in addition to the Chair, and a majority of lay persons, is in effect the board of the Legal Ombudsman (LeO). The LeO consists of a team of Ombudsmen who deal with complaints made against English and Welsh lawyers by their clients. It began functioning in 2010. In January 2015 it became authorised to deal with complaints against claims management companies. The organisation is based in Birmingham. During 2015–16 it had a staff of over 230.
5.In financial year 2015–16, the LeO had staffing costs of £10,366,000 and other costs of £3,402,000. Its income, nearly all from its annual levy on approved regulators, came to £12,014,000. In relation to complaints against lawyers the LeO received 59,082 contacts, 18,088 if which were within its jurisdiction. It accepted 7,033 complaints for investigation and resolved 6,416 cases: 31.5% of these were resolved informally, 40% by ombudsman’s final decision, and 28.5% by other means. The most common areas of complaint were residential conveyancing, family law, wills and probate, personal injury and litigation.
6.During the year the LeO received 19,508 contacts in relation to claims management companies, accepting 2,438 cases for investigation and resolving 1,740 complaints, 32% of them informally, 32% by way of ombudsman’s final decision, and the remaining 36% by other means. The overwhelming majority of complaints against claims management companies (95%) concerned financial products and services, primarily personal protection insurance mis-selling cases.
7.The candidate information pack for the recruitment exercise lists the responsibilities of the OLC. In summary (see Appendix D for full details) those responsibilities include:
8.The Chair’s responsibilities are also set out in full in the candidate information pack (see Appendix D). They include setting the strategic direction of the OLC and ensuring that the organisation is fulfilling its statutory duty as an ombudsman scheme; leading liaison with the Chair of LSB and the Ministry of Justice; protecting the independence of the Ombudsman in relation to the decisions taken; maintaining trust and confidence in the OLC with key stakeholders; acting as an ambassador for the OLC and the ombudsman scheme; and ensuring compliance with the general guidelines laid down by government relating to public bodies and with statutory or administrative requirements relating to financial accountability. In addition the information pack details the criteria in relation to experience, knowledge, skills and abilities against which candidates were assessed.
9.Ms Goldwag’s c.v. sets out an impressive and eclectic portfolio of five main roles which she is carrying out:
10.Her role as a Civil Service Commissioner comes to an end on 31 March 2017. At our pre-appointment scrutiny hearing we asked Ms Goldwag whether, if her appointment as Chair of the OLC is confirmed, she would continue with the other four positions. She said that they were non-executive roles which were not full-time, and did not indicate that she saw any need to relinquish or reduce her commitment to any of them.
11.We note Ms Goldwag’s inadvertent omission of a record of her small shareholding in Kings Court Trust when she completed her conflicts of interests form as part of the recruitment process. We received an indication from Sir Mike Pitt, in his capacity as Chair of the appointing panel, that he was satisfied that this was a genuine mistake and, had Ms Goldwag included the information in her declaration, it would not have made a material difference to the decision of the panel.
12.At the pre-appointment hearing we asked Ms Goldwag a range of questions bearing on her suitability for the post. These included questions about her past experience and its relevance to the role of Chair of the OLC, as well as questions intended to elicit her understanding of the legal services regulatory system and her views about the challenges and priorities facing the OLC and the LeO during her likely period in office.
13.We consider that Wanda Goldwag fully meets the criteria necessary to fulfil the role of Chair of the Office for Legal Complaints effectively, and we endorse her suitability for it. We are also grateful for her indication that she would be willing to return to the Committee for further discussion of the issues we covered with her at the pre-appointment hearing.
1 The six posts are listed in Appendix A.
2 Appendices B to H
3 The transcript of the evidence session is on the .
4 When this competition was launched, the OLC had a membership of seven, the Chair, 4 lay members and 2 non-lay members (see Appendix D).
5 See Appendix D.
6 Information in this part of the Report is taken from . In its legal jurisdiction the LeO also receives some funding from case fees charged to legal services providers; its claims management jurisdiction is funded by grant-in-aid from the Ministry of Justice and case fees to claims management companies.
23 March 2017