Lewy v Lord Chancellor's Department

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal
Judgment Date26 Mar 2002
Neutral Citation[2001] EWCA Civ 600,[2002] EWCA Civ 556
Docket NumberC/2000/3062

[2001] EWCA Civ 600







Royal Courts of Justice

The Strand



Lord Justice Laws


Lilly Lewy
Lord Chancellor's Department

THE APPLICANT appeared in person

Tuesday 10 April 2001


This is an application for permission to appeal against a decision of Owen J given on 29 August 2000 when he refused the applicant permission to seek judicial review.


Silber J had earlier refused permission on the papers. The applicant, Mrs Lewy, has appeared before me this morning in person and addressed me with great courtesy and dignity.


Her application for judicial review related in terms to a letter dated 6 March 2000 from a Mr Wasim Khan, an official at the Lord Chancellor's Department. Taken in isolation the contents of the letter do not amount to very much, but they at once indicate (which is certainly the case) that there is a very long background. After an introductory sentence the letter reads:

"I am afraid there is nothing I can usefully add to the previous letters you have received from this Department. The points you raised have been thoroughly considered and I believe we have been as helpful as possible in answering your concerns. There is no further information or advice that I can give to assist you and future letters will be placed on file unless they raise new issues that we can deal with."


As is plain from the applicant's witness statement, which is attached to her judicial review application, the background unhappily concerns the death of her husband and her allegations of incompetence against a firm of solicitors, Taylor Joynson Garrett, whom she had instructed in relation to a potential claim for damages for medical negligence. In her statement the applicant states that she brought a complaint against this firm to the Solicitors Complaints Bureau. The Solicitors Complaints Bureau made a decision to take no action in respect of the complaints which she laid before them. The applicant then sought to complain against that decision in turn by lodging a complaint with the Legal Services Ombudsman. She was informed by the Legal Services Ombudsman that her complaint would not be investigated because it had been brought outside a three-month time limit within which complaints had to be brought. She then sought many explanations, and she continues to seek explanations as to why this three-month time limit existed. She has argued and submitted, and continues to submit, that it was unjust that such a short time limit was imposed when for instance for a breach of contract claim the limitation period amounted to six years. She has sought to obtain clarification from the Lord Chancellor's Department about it and about other matters ever since April 1997. She has written many letters to officials at the Lord Chancellor's Department and, as she has stressed to me this morning, the Lord Chancellor himself, expressing her dissatisfaction and seeking redress. She first wrote to the Lord Chancellor's Department in April 1997. She did not receive a reply until July 1997. That letter, dated 10 July 1997, following an introductory paragraph, reads as follows:

"I understand that you are concerned that the Legal Services Ombudsman is unable to investigate your complaint because more than three months has elapsed since the final decision by the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors.

It may be helpful if I explain the terms and conditions under which the Legal Services Ombudsman operates. His office was established under provisions of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 to be statutorily independent of both the legal profession and the Government, so that complainants could be assured that their case would be investigated by a lay person who is completely independent from any influence while he carries out his investigation. To preserve that independence the Lord Chancellor is prevented from intervening in his handling of individual cases, although he is responsible for appointing the Ombudsman, and also for approving general directions as to the Ombudsman's discharge of his duties.

The Lord Chancellor's direction of 1 January 1991 requires complainants to refer allegations about the professional bodies' handling of complaints to the Ombudsman within three months of notification of the decision. Therefore the Ombudsman is unable by statute to investigate your complaint. Three months had been the time limit for referring cases to the Lay Observer, who previously had responsibility for examining the professional bodies' handling of complaints, and, when the Ombudsman's Office was founded, the same limitation was imposed. I sympathise with your position, but I am afraid that neither the Lord Chancellor nor his officials are able to intervene in your case for the reason given above.

However, you will be interested to learn that this Department will shortly be carrying out a review of the role and responsibilities of the Legal Services Ombudsman and the appropriateness of his statutory powers and limitations, including the three-month time limit for referral, will be examined."


That letter is signed by Julia Gerrard on behalf of the Department.


The applicant was not satisfied with that response. She continued to correspond with the Lord Chancellor's Department and demanded further explanations as to why the Legal Services Ombudsman could not exercise his power or discretion to look into her file. Among the matters she raised were the following: availability of legal aid for "next of kin of illegal immigrants, suspects under arrest and criminals etc . who die in suspicious circumstances" (see the letter of 10 August 1997). She then expressed concern relating to why the Lord Chancellor has "never seen fit" to require information to be submitted by the Legal Services Ombudsman according to Schedule 3, paragraph 3 of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 (see letters dated 6 December 1998 and 3 January 1999). She expressed concern relating to the lack of information provided to next of kin in non-violent suspicious deaths (13 January 1999).


The correspondence underlines and highlights the applicant's general dissatisfaction with the way in which she had been treated by the Lord Chancellor's Department, as well as with the Office of the Legal Services Ombudsman itself. That is a dissatisfaction which has plainly grown as time has passed.


The bundle of documents which she has supplied, and which I have read, contains the trail of letters and correspondence between the appellant and the Department. It culminated in the letter dated 6 March 2000 from Mr Khan, which I have already read.


In her Form 86A setting out her application for judicial review, the applicant seeks relief in these terms:

"Proper and complete answers to Mrs Lewy's questions about, inter alia, the origin of the Three Months' Limitation against Clients in favour of Lawyers, the duties and powers of Legal Services Ombudsmen and how often they have exercised them or been required to comply with them, the whereabouts of submissions handed to the then Minister Mr Geoffrey Hoon, etc (See List of approaches (Question) to Lord Chancellor's Department – annexed hereto)."


The grounds upon which she seeks judicial review are put in this way:

"The Applicant has met with concealment, contempt, delay, dissimulation and evasion at the hands of employees of the Lords Chancellor's Department .


The Applicant maintains that withholding essential information is an action in breach of her human rights."


In refusing permission on paper, Silber J stated:

"Application refused. The letter of 6 March does not state anything which could be the subject matter of judicial review. In any event the contents cannot be impugned on any of the recognised principles. You do not have an arguable...

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