THE OMBUDSMAN SERVICE
The ombudsman is Isabel Goris. She has been a lawyer at the Antwerp bar since 1991.
A lawyer or client submits a complaint to the ombudsman service free of charge. The ombudsman receives all complaints and checks whether they are complete and well-founded. The complaint is then forwarded to a local ombudsman for handling.
Each bar has a list of at least three local ombudsmen. They all have the necessary experience and knowledge, and are all qualified mediators. This guarantees a humane and correct approach to the complaint.
The ombudsman chooses the local ombudsman from the list of the bar where the lawyer concerned is registered. If the client does not accept that choice, the ombudsman designates a person from the list of another judicial district. In this way, the ombudsman guarantees the local ombudsman’s independence and impartiality.
The local ombudsman investigates the complaint and searches for possible solutions. To this end, he can interview both the lawyer and the client, either separately or together. The local ombudsman proposes a solution and makes recommendations. The lawyer and client may follow this solution and recommendations, but are not obliged to do so. They can also make their own proposals.
The ombudsman is at the top of the pyramid of what is known as extrajudicial dispute resolution (i.e. not before a court) between lawyers and clients.
At the lowest level, a law firm can also establish a comparable service. If a lawyer or law firm provides such a service, you must first try to resolve your problem through this service. Even if there is no formal service, the lawyer and client must always first try to discuss and solve their problems. You may approach the ombudsman only if this route provides no solution.
The law stipulates that consumer disputes must firstly be resolved out of court. It permits a certain sector or professional group to create their own body for this purpose. For Flemish lawyers, this is the Ombudsman Service for Consumer Disputes relating to the Legal Profession (OCA). The ombudsman service is authorised to intervene in all disputes between Flemish lawyers and their clients. It takes the Belgian Judicial Code, the Belgian Economic Law Code and ethical rules into consideration in this regard.
The ombudsman decides independently how the budget is to be used, based on the OCA’s needs and workload.
The board of the Bar Council of the local bars decide for themselves on any remuneration of local ombudsmen. That remuneration may not be based on the outcome of the extrajudicial dispute resolution.