Appointing Panel of Lawyers is an abuse of Consumer Rights

07/09/2011 12:04

The Consumer Council of Fiji strongly contests the idea of banks to have panel of lawyers for consumers to choose from for the preparation of security documentation in conveyancing matters. Bank dictated panel of lawyers restricts consumer choice in the marketplace. If a consumer pays for the legal costs then who is the bank to decide which lawyer the consumer should go to from the banks panel. We live in a free market economy and therefore authoritarian approach of the banks must stop.

The Chair of the Association of Banks in Fiji Mr. Normal Wilson was explaining during a business forum yesterday (7th September 2011) that the reason to have a panel of lawyers for clients to choose from was to ensure that the processes that took place are effective.

The Council is in receipt of interesting complaints where some of the lawyers from the banks’ panel are not necessarily effective as claimed by Mr. Wilson. The Council has sufficient evidences to prove that the so called “Panel of Lawyers” are not necessarily effective and/or efficient. The Council is interested to know the criteria on which the banks select these lawyers to be on their panels. There are lawyers who are more efficient without being on the banks’ panel and whom the consumers are not able to access due to the restriction placed on them.

With the Independent Legal Services Commission currently in place, the banks need not select “effective” lawyers. Consumers are in a better position now to seek redress for deficiency in services from the well established and functional Commission.

By appointing a panel of lawyers only benefits the banks and not the consumers as speculated by the banks. Although the consumer is paying for the services, the lawyers are seen to protect the interests of the bank so that they are not removed from the panel. If the banks are not gaining by appointing a panel of lawyers then why is there a need to do so in the first place?

Apparently, the fees and charges of lawyers on the banks’ panel are generally higher than those lawyers who are not on the panel. Why should consumers pay high legal costs for the lawyers decided by the banks especially when they are inefficient? Such “imposing” approach is not the way to do business in modern times.

The Council would like to see an end to this practice so that consumers can exercise their right to choose a lawyer that is affordable, efficient and effective.

Meanwhile, the Council supports the idea of legal kit proposed by the Minister of Industry and Trade to help consumers save the legal costs incurred during the preparation of standard documents such as sales and purchase agreements.