The County Court at Cardiff has recently ordered a solicitor to comply with the Legal Ombudsman's direction to complete the administration of an estate.[1] Failure to do so would result in imprisonment for 14 days. The case re-enforces the importance of complying with the Legal Ombudsman's directions in relation to estate administration and illustrates how the Court is willing to enforce such directions.

Background

In or before 2014, Mr JS Ladbrooke, the personal representative of the deceased, brought a complaint before the Legal Ombudsman that Ms Rhiannon Cory, a practising solicitor and the defendant, was not acting on his instruction to complete the administration of the estate. Unfortunately, neither the case nor the Legal Ombudsman's decision specifies precisely what Ms Cory had failed to do. On 7 March 2014, the Legal Ombudsman issued a decision requiring Ms Cory to (i) complete the administration of the estate and provide a finalised copy of the estate accounts to Mr Ladbrooke; (ii) reimburse a sum of £527.28 to the estate; and (iii) reduce the total fees of her firm, Castle Law (the "Decision").

The Legal Ombudsman reminded Ms Cory of the Decision on 18 March and 3 April 2014. Receiving no response, the Legal Ombudsman sent further letters to her on 1 May 2014 and 13 January 2015 requiring compliance. In these letters, the Legal Ombudsman stated that absent compliance, further proceedings would be commenced to enforce the Decision.

In early 2016, the Legal Ombudsman made an application for an order to enforce compliance with the Decision (the "Order"). The Order was made on 17 June 2016. An application for committal was made in September 2016 (the "Committal Application").

Judgment

The Court found on the facts that since July 2016, by personal service of the documents relevant to the Order, Ms Cory had been made fully aware of the terms of the Order that she was required to comply with. Further, the Court observed that by personal service of relevant documents, Ms Cory had knowledge of the Committal Application and the hearing.

Despite knowledge of the Decision / Order and the Committal Application, Ms Cory did not respond to the efforts of the Legal Ombudsman to enforce compliance or to secure her cooperation with the Decision / Order. Ms Cory also failed to attend the hearing of the Committal Application.

The Court found "[t]his is in short a solicitor who has hidden her head in the sand and continues to do so".

Accordingly, the Court ordered that Ms Cory be committed to prison for a period of 14 days, but the imprisonment is suspended on condition that she attend the adjourned hearing.

Conclusion

Solicitors must administer an estate with competence and respond and comply with directions from the Legal Ombudsman's in a timely manner. The case re-enforces the importance of complying with the Legal Ombudsman's direction in estates cases and illustrates how the Court is willing to enforce such a direction.