Council wants Independent redress system

25/08/2008 15:09

Fiji Law Society [FLS], a self-regulated body has finally confessed that legal service in Fiji lacks professional ethics and responsibility. It simply has failed to meet a level of service delivery a consumer desires or pays for.

The confession comes amidst many correspondence sent to the President of FLS from the Council to engage in good faith discussion and dialogue as to finding a way forward to curb the rise in the number of complaints lodged at the Council as well as improving service delivery through effective standards and redress mechanisms. The Council has been patiently waiting for a response from the start of the year but it has taken 8 months to see any clear indication from FLS as to the extent of complaints lodged against lawyers. It is not clear whether the 183 complaints is an accumulated statistics for this year (2008) or is made up of a figure from preceding years due to inaction and delay in giving justice to consumers. It seems that the very people who have taken an oath to uphold justice has been denying justice to consumers by not delivering quality service for which they have paid for and secondly, through inaction and delays by FLS to provide effective remedy for their grievances.

The statistics provided by the president of FLS, Mr Isireli Fa, is meaningless because he has failed to propose what he intends to do with these complaints and how soon action will be taken against lawyers where there is a genuine case given that the complaints received at the Council dates back to 2000 and even earlier. The Council is in fact disappointed with the unresponsive attitude of the FLS towards disciplining lawyers, many of who are the FLS members.

The FLS is the mandated body to look into “lawyer-related” complaints under the Legal Practitioner’s Act 1997 and to address corrupt, illegal and unethical practices by lawyers. The accumulation of complaints against lawyers to now stand at 183 is therefore unsurprising given that there has been no action taken on the complaints forwarded by the Council to the FLS. The faith consumers and the Council have placed in the FLS for a fair and just delivery of resolution has been tainted via complete lack of regard for resolving these complaints through the institution’s redress mechanism and the continued, unreasonable delay in dealing with the consumer grievances.

The Consumer Council of Fiji simply refuses to believe that suddenly, when FLS is nearing its election period to appoint a new president and secretariat in September is likely to take drastic steps to promptly and effectively address these complaints. To that end, the Council is now seriously considering lobbying for lawyers and their conduct to be regulated by an independent body with an effective, accessible, affordable and reasonable redress system.

Apparently, self-regulation isn't working. Consumers complain to the Council time and again about the second rate service they receive from their barristers and solicitors; often during stressful times. It is unfortunate that this profession is able to get away with this type of behaviour and it is high time, necessary reforms happen in this complaint-riddled industry.

The Council is therefore calling for a holistic reform to the current system of self regulation, the introduction of an independent regulator to cover the whole of the legal service industry; and available sanctions to tackle firms providing poor service.

An independent body with transparent and democratic decision-making powers will ensure that consumers would be heard. Such a body will no doubt struggle to strike the right balance to regulate previously unregulated professionals or experts. Fundamentally, this body must be given the tools it needs to succeed as a regulator and it must have vested powers to sanction lawyers and seek judicial enforcement of the disciplinary consequences it imposes on the lawyers. Further, such body’s jurisdiction must be governed by a statute or law.