Council wants FLS to compensate

02/12/2008 15:07

The Consumer Council of Fiji echoes the sentiments of Judge Justice John Connors who criticized the delaying action by the Fiji Law Society (FLS) at the recent Attorney General’s conference. The Council is disappointed with FLS for stalling on consumer complaints against its members. The appalling comments forthcoming from the FLS president, Mr Dorsami Naidu, explains the delaying investigation and thereafter disciplinary actions against FLS members. Mr Naidu took it upon himself to judge the many consumer complaints against his members as mere allegations. Such perception held by him means condoning the professional misconduct of his members. Consumers therefore can not expect him as the president of FLS to act objectively in providing fair redress on complaints against FLS members.

The delaying action by FLS in addressing consumer grievances against its members is resulting is huge losses to these consumers. One complainant’s lawyer passed away in September 2008 while he waited for justice to be served by the FLS. He had given $3,000 to the now deceased lawyer to serve his case involving his land issue. However, no service was rendered by his lawyer. The complainant had first written to the FLS in 2004 to seek redress but had to approach the Council in 2008 following inaction by FLS. What becomes of his case now? The Council is of the view that FLS should compensate him for the money lost which could have been recovered if swift action by FLS was taken against the lawyer.

Moreover, the Council questions the independency of the Panel of Disciplinary Committee that FLS president speaks of. If the panel comprises FLS members then aggrieved consumers would not receive a fair and independent assessment on their complaints. For this reason the interim government should, without undue delay, form an independent body to address the accumulating consumer complaints against professional misconduct of FLS members. The establishment of such a body should be independent of state and FLS control – complete independence is absolute to provide fair consumer redress. The way lawyers in New Zealand and Australia are regulated provide classic examples that FLS and Attorney General’s office can refer.

In August this year the Council expressed its disappointment in the FLS for its unresponsive attitude towards consumer complaints against lawyers. The Council made the call for major reform to the current systems of FLS self regulation and the introduction of an independent regulator to cover the whole of the legal services industry. The call was made purely for reasons of misrecognition and inaction by FLS of the increasing number of consumer complaints against its members. From January to August 2008 the Council registered ten consumer complaints against lawyers and in 2007 there were two complaints which were forwarded in writing to the FLS for appropriate action. 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.  However, to date, FLS has not acknowledged the complaints forwarded to them.

Aggrieved consumers are waiting for justice to be served on their complaints which mostly pertain to the professional misconduct of some lawyers and relating to:

  • the manner the parties have entered into fees agreement (or lack of any);
  • Long delays and lack of consultation with clients;
  • the services that have been rendered either fall below the expected standard of the client or is incomplete, yet bill of costs are submitted for immediate payment;
  • charged fees upfront but no services rendered; and
  • refusing to meet clients after taking fees.

Consumers have lost all faith in FLS president for a fair and just delivery of resolution which 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 Attorney General clearly has a responsibility to the aggrieved consumers and justice should not be delayed or denied.