Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Scottish Legal Complaints Commission not to be 'new Sheriff in town' as legislation intended

The Law Society of Scotland remains slightly bitter about the existence of the new service complaints regulator - the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission .. but how can that be, because the SLCC has been stuffed with around 39 members of staff from the Law Society itself, together with a few leavings from Law Society committees.

At any rate, the battle is on to convince the public the same people who maligned complaints against lawyers at the Law Society can do a better and more honest job at the new complaints commission .... pull the other one please !

Peter Cherbi’s “A Diary of Injustice in Scotland” reports more on the matter here : Law Society ‘writes rules’ for Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as confidence drops in new regulator

The Scotsman reports :

There's a new sheriff in town

By Jennifer Veitch

FROM 1 October, the Scottish legal profession will have a new sheriff in town. On that date, the controversial Scottish Legal Complaints Commission will begin its work dealing with the grievances of unhappy clients across Scotland.

At present, if they cannot be resolved by the firm’s client relationship partner – a compulsory post in each legal outfit – complaints are handled by the Law Society, the Faculty of Advocates, and the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman, and although these bodies will remain, there is confusion over how they will hand over power to the Commission and how it will operate after it begins. As the new body prepares to take charge, we look at the fine print.

What is the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission?

A new independent gateway for complaints about lawyers. The Commission will be a so-called “one-stop-shop” for consumers, and its main role will be to investigate legal service complaints.

Controversially, the Commission will have the power to award compensation of up to £20,000 if inadequate professional service (IPS) is shown to have caused “loss, inconvenience or distress” to clients.

What are the Commission’s powers?

Its powers are set out in the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007. Apart from taking responsibility for handling service complaints out of the hands of lawyers, the most significant change will be that compensation for IPS will be four times higher than the current maximum paid out by the Law Society. The Commission can also compel lawyers to reduce fees, redo work or rectify mistakes at their own expense.

If complaints are upheld, the Commission will charge case fees of between £200 and £400 to firms if a settlement is reached through mediation.

Clients will not be charged if a complaint is not upheld, but the Commission will weed out complaints that are “vexatious, frivolous or totally without merit”. It will also promote early resolution of disputes between a firm and clients.

When will the Commission actually take over complaints handling?

Officially, it becomes the new gateway from 1 October, but there may be a significant time lag before it actually investigates and rules on any matters.

According to the Commission’s draft rules – currently out for consultation – it will investigate complaints if the service that is the cause of the complaint itself has been instructed after 1 October. It could look at historical complaints, but would not have the power to award the higher compensation and wants to avoid a two-tier system.

This means that it is likely that the old complaints system will continue to run for an indefinite period, handling any complaints about service that was instructed before 1 October.

Any consumers with non-urgent business who want the protection offered by the new system might wish to wait until after 1 October to instruct their lawyer.

What happens if a complaint is already being investigated on 1 October?

The Law Society and Faculty of Advocates will continue to investigate any complaints that are already ongoing.

What will happen to the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman?

This body has powers to investigate the handling of complaints by the Law Society and Faculty of Advocates and will be abolished when the new Commission begins work. Provisions are being considered to allow the Commission to take on the Ombudsman’s function in relation to complaints instructed before 1 October.

What will happen to conduct complaints?

The Commission must refer conduct complaints about solicitors or advocates back to the Law Society or the Faculty as appropriate, but it will review the professional bodies’ handling of misconduct cases. It is also likely to be closely involved in cases where there is an overlap between service and conduct. For example, repeatedly poor service may become a conduct issue.

Who will run the Commission?

It will be chaired by Jane Irvine, the current Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman, and made up of four lawyer members – Professor Alan Paterson, David Smith, Margaret Scanlan and David Chaplin – and four lay members, Douglas Watson, Linda Pollock, George Irving and Ian Gordon. The Commission is independent of government, although member appointments are made by Scottish Ministers.

Who is paying for the Commission?

Apart from start-up costs from the Scottish Government, the short answer is the legal profession. It will be funded by a compulsory annual levy paid by all practising solicitors and advocates, and case fees from upheld complaints.

The Commission has set a budget of £2.6 million to cover the first nine months of operation. The levy will be collected by the Law Society and the Faculty of Advocates and invoices will be sent out this month. Most solicitors – with three or more years’ experience – will pay £307; around 50 per cent higher than first estimated. The levy has been adjusted to give discounts to trainees and newly qualified solicitors, who will pay £153, and in-house lawyers, who will pay £102. Advocates will pay £248.

How many complaints will the Commission get?

This depends on a number of factors. If clients perceive that it has an enhanced ability to resolve disputes – as well as a higher level of compensation – there may be an upsurge in complaints. Yet recent figures suggest the number of legal complaints has been falling. The Law Society’s last annual report stated that complaints about solicitors dropped by almost 30 per cent between 2006 and 2007.

Is any more information available?

The Commission has a new website that sets out its remit and includes consultation documents on its draft rules:, and The Law Society is publishing regular updates for solicitors on its website:

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