The most frequently asked questions will be published on this page.
Who is the ombudsman who handles complaints?
Advocate Isabel Goris is the Ligeca ombudsman on the Dutch-language side. She answers questions, tries to explain and receives complaints that she forwards to a local ombudsman for further handling. She monitors the local solution that is found and, if necessary, adds a non-binding recommendation to it.
The local ombudsman is generally chosen within the judicial district where the lawyer concerned is registered. However, as the applicant, you may choose a different judicial district if this seems more neutral or it is more convenient for you to travel there.
What do the Ligeca ombudsman and local ombudsman do exactly?
As a qualified mediator, both the Ligeca ombudsman and local ombudsman strive for a humane and correct approach to questions, comments and complaints:
- They understand both parties.
- They listen and maintain the necessary dialogue.
- They ask for information and explain things.
- They reconcile and strive for possible solutions.
- They make non-binding recommendations.
How is the ombudsman appointed?
The Flemish Bar Council appoints the ombudsman on the recommendation of an external advisory council. The chairmen of the respective bars nominate the local ombudsmen. All have a renewable three-year mandate. Although they are all lawyers, they cannot perform any mandate in the Flemish Bar Council or the local bars during their mandate.
What does complaint handling through Ligeca cost?
Handling questions and complaints at Ligeca is free.
If you arrange to be represented by a third party, such as another lawyer or an assistant, you must pay these costs yourself as the applicant.
Who can submit a complaint?
Both the client and the lawyer may submit a complaint.
The client must be a consumer and may not have used the services of a lawyer for business or commercial purposes. Complaints submitted in the name of a company are therefore not accepted.
Which complaints are handled and not handled by Ligeca?
You can approach Ligeca for different questions and/or problems relating to the relationship between a lawyer and a client. The ombudsman handles questions and complaints relating to fees, the duties of the lawyer, a lack of information and communications, late responses, etc.
The condition in this regard is that questions and complaints from clients must relate to their own lawyer, namely the lawyer engaged to defend the interests of the client and with whom the client has entered into a contract.
This means that Ligeca does not handle complaints relating to the opposing party’s lawyer or decisions of the Legal Aid Office. We also do not have jurisdiction to hear complaints about a lawyer who exercises a judicial mandate (administrator, debt counsellor). After all, there is no contractual relationship and therefore no consumer dispute.
If legal proceedings are already in process between the client and lawyer, Ligeca can no longer get involved to reconcile the dispute. As an extrajudicial dispute authority, it no longer has jurisdiction for this purpose.
Lastly, Ligeca has no authority to impose a disciplinary punishment, because that remains the exclusive jurisdiction of the chairman.
What is the difference between proceedings at Ligeca and at the chairman?
The task of the chairman is to ensure that every lawyer practises their profession correctly within the bar that the chairman supervises. If this is not the case, the chairman may take disciplinary action. The chairman is thus the ‘watchdog’ of the legal profession.
However, Ligeca plays a different role. After all, the ombudsman tries to provide information, explain, and reconcile disputes. The ombudsman tries to find a solution for a dispute that all parties feel comfortable about.
The two authorities exist parallel to each other. The choice of whether to go to one authority or the other with a complaint is entirely without obligation.
Is a complaint submitted to Ligeca confidential?
Ligeca treats all information that it receives as strictly confidential.
Furthermore, every ombudsman involved at Ligeca is a lawyer and thus subject to professional privilege.
Does submitting a complaint to Ligeca impose any obligations?
The proceedings at Ligeca are ‘amicable’ or out-of-court proceedings and you are not obliged to participate in them. You may withdraw at any time.
Ligeca will moreover try to provide an explanation and reconcile the parties. Ligeca can also formulate a non-binding recommendation but never impose a decision.
NOTE: if the parties reach an agreement through Ligeca or follow the ombudsman’s recommendation, a formal record of this will be drawn up. From this point, the agreement is binding and both parties are thus obliged to comply with it.
If one of the parties fails to comply with the agreement, the record may be submitted to court to obtain an enforcement order.
In which language is a complaint handled?
Because the regulations are intended to protect the consumer, the client chooses the language in which they wish to submit the complaint.
Depending on that choice, the client is directed to a Dutch, French or German form for completion. A complaint may also be submitted in English.
How long does complaint handling take?
The period stipulated for handling a complaint is 90 days. In exceptional cases, the period may be extended once by the same period.
The average handling period in 2019 was 82 days. However, because we adopt a personal approach and handle each complaint individually, the 90-day deadline had to be extended in many case files.
What is the possible outcome of a complaint at Ligeca?
Three outcomes are possible:
- A settlement is reached at local level. The parties are then obliged to comply with the agreement.
- No solution is found at local level. The complaint is referred back to Ligeca, which may make a non-binding recommendation to the parties. If the parties agree to follow a recommendation made by the ombudsman, they are then bound by it.
- One of the parties chooses to withdraw from the proceedings before a settlement is reached locally or a recommendation is given by the ombudsman service.
If the ombudsman service’s recommendation is not followed, or if one of the parties chooses to withdraw, the ombudsman service ceases to handle the dispute.
What is the relationship between Ligeca and the Flemish Bar Council?
Ligeca is a fully independent operating entity within the Flemish Bar Council. Ligeca has its own budget; it does not receive any instructions from the Flemish Bar Council, its administrative body, or the chairmen of the local bars.