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ombudsman news

issue 56

September/October 2006

challenging times

Judicial review appears, suddenly, to be flavour of the month. Not a week seems to go by at present without someone announcing a legal challenge to our decisions or procedures.

Often, the press releases issued to announce and describe the challenges promise rather more dramatic consequences than are seen in the proceedings. And much of what is claimed seems contradictory.

We are accused - at one and the same time - of being above the law and unchallengeable; engaged in a disgraceful denial of human rights that a landmark test case will bring to a halt; suffering a stunning blow in the courts that will save the financial services industry millions of pounds; and outrageously allowing firms wrongly to escape paying millions to consumers with financial complaints.

However, these kinds of dramatic yet rather confusing claims are - hardly surprisingly - unlikely in reality to rock the foundations of the ombudsman service. No public organisation involved in the contentious business of handling disputes is immune from people wanting to test the limits of its remit, particularly as there are always commercial interests at stake.

Claims-handling companies have a business interest in maintaining the flow of endowment complaints. Lawyers seeking to attract business from financial firms will put an optimistic spin on what they might achieve. And if financial advisers' indemnity insurers think they can avoid liability for meeting awards they believe are unjustified, they are entitled (and indeed obliged) to try to do so.

So if all this provides the courts with opportunities to clarify definitively some aspects of our scheme, we will all be the wiser. And once that's done we might look forward to spending less time, and less of the industry's money, on lawyers.

Walter Merricks
chief ombudsman

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ombudsman news issue 56 [PDF format]

ombudsman news gives general information on the position at the date of publication. It is not a definitive statement of the law, our approach or our procedure.

The illustrative case studies are based broadly on real-life cases, but are not precedents. Individual cases are decided on their own facts.