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Regulator’s use of powers to reduce fees demanded by ‘crooked lawyers’ fails to keep pace with client complaints, dissatisfaction with Scots law firms

02 Aug

SLCCScottish Legal Complaints Commission is failing to use powers of reduction of legal fees in cases of complaints ACCORDING to statistics obtained by Diary of Injustice under Freedom of Information legislation, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) is generally failing to use it’s powers to reduce or even nullify lawyers fees in cases where clients have made complaints to the regulator about poor legal services provided by Scottish solicitors.

The data obtained in an FOI response from the SLCC show that in the past year, the regulator used its powers over fees in a mere twenty one cases out of all the complaints made to the SLCC in the same time period, where the ‘independent’ regulator of Scottish solicitors can usually expect to receive around one thousand complaints from dissatisfied clients.

SLCC reduction & nullification of solicitors fees 2011-2012Do lawyers deserve fees for ruining a client’s legal affairs ? You decide. In the cases revealed to Diary of Injustice, fees demanded by solicitors were reduced by the SLCC in only nine cases, the largest reduction being £2000 and the smallest reduction a mere £58. Cases where the SLCC awarded compensation to clients totalled a mere eleven cases, where surprisingly the SLCC did award sums of up to £5388 to clients whose legal interests had been damaged by their solicitors, while lower awards of compensation amounted in one case, to a mere £150. The SLCC has the power to award up to twenty thousand pounds of compensation to clients but so far does not appear to have awarded any figure over £5K.

In other cases, where the SLCC has the power to nullify, or void the fees charged by solicitors to clients, a mere 5 cases saw clients relieved of having to pay their dodgy lawyers any money for work which ended up in a complaint to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

The figures make for grim reading and compare as poorly as ever to earlier figures the SLCC was hurriedly forced to publish in its 2011 annual report for the first time ever since it began work in 2008, after an investigation by Diary of Injustice found one client had been awarded a mere ten pounds compensation. The earlier report can be read here : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission forced to publish compensation data in annual report, reveals only 7 cases ‘fully upheld’ against ‘dodgy lawyers’

Commenting on the figures this morning, an official with one of Scotland’s Consumer organisations said she was surprised the SLCC had only considered action over legal fees in such a small number of complaints made to the regulator over the past year.

She said : “Clients of solicitors who are put in the position of having to make a complaint about their solicitor to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission should make it clear in their complaints they feel the SLCC should use its powers to reduce or void fees charged by their solicitors. If the SLCC refuses to do so, or the client does not agree with the award of compensation or a fee reduction, the client should ask for a full explanation over how the SLCC came to it’s decision.”

However, a legal insider was more critical of the SLCC’s lack of action over fees charged to clients, accusing the regulator of failing to use its fee reducing powers in a manner more likely to act as a deterrent to crooked lawyers.

He said “If the SLCC were to use its powers to reduce or void solicitors fees in many more cases, it may act as a more powerful deterrent to solicitors & law firms who are failing numerous clients yet appear to be able to demand money from clients put in difficult circumstances by their actions, even after considerable failures.”

He also accused the SLCC of buckling to pressure from the legal profession in “numerous cases where fees should have been reduced or voided” after apparently secret representations were made to the SLCC by the LEGAL DEFENCE UNION (LDU) on behalf of ‘crooked lawyers’.

In a recent case, Diary of Injustice reported on how the LDU had intervened in the SLCC’s investigation of complaints mad about Kilmarnock solicitor Niels Lockhart : SCANDAL : Legal Defence Union intervene in SLCC investigation over £670K Legal Aid lawyer who made Pensioner HOMELESS, STARVED to pay legal bills and in another report, Diary of Injustice revealed secret links between the SLCC & LDU : Investigation reveals Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s links, secret ‘off the record’ dealings with lawyers lobby group Legal Defence Union

From evidence accumulated by Diary of Injustice, it appears to be clear that the Law Society of Scotland generally view the SLCC’s powers to reduce or void fees as a hostile act to its member firms, who continually bleat about poor finances yet expect to be able to charge clients the full whack even after ruining their legal affairs. Clearly the SLCC are reluctant to upset the Law Society in some of the cases, therefore this may also account for a lack of outcomes where fees have been reduced or nullified.

One case recently reported by Diary of Injustice where the issue of the SLCC’s reluctance to use its powers had a powerful effect on the complainant, was that of a William Gordon of Perth, who was sequestrated by Perth based law firm Kippen Campbell, who claimed they were due around two thousand five hundred pounds for legal services provided on a now collapsed medical injury claim in the Court of Session.

In the earlier report, Solicitors regulator blamed for failure to use powers on fees as accountants seize Disability benefits to pay Perth law firm for collapsed court case which also revealed Mr Gordon’s benefits had been seized by Glasgow based accountants Wylie & Bisset, acting on behalf of the Accountant in Bankruptcy (AIB) in order to pay back the alleged debts to the law firm, it was apparent that if the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission had used its powers over fees in complaints submitted by Mr Gordon, he would not have been put in the position of being made bankrupt by a law firm who effectively walked away from their client.

In the case of Mr Gordon, the AIB went further, attempting to seize two properties, orchestrating a plan to sell both to pay off alleged debts to Mr Gordon’s former solicitors, Kippen Campbell, which now total around six thousand pounds after the addition of several court hearings which Mr Gordon could not attend due to his ill health.

Diary of Injustice would like to advise consumers who are dealing with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission : If you are making a complaint about your solicitor to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, whether the complaint is about fees, service or conduct, you should ask for more information on the SLCC’s powers to reduce or nullify fees you have been charged by your solicitor.

If, after the SLCC has made a decision on fees, or compensation and you are not satisfied with it, media publicity to the SLCC’s decision and your circumstances may help you have any decision looked at again, and may also help other consumers avoid using law firms who want to charge clients high fees even after ruining their legal interests.

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