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Let’s work together to identify dodgy lawyers: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission statement on BBC Scotland investigation of Lawyers Behaving Badly

17 Jan

Regulators behaving typically – SLCC statement on BBC investigation into dodgy solicitors. AMID widespread criticism from the legal profession over the content of a popular and well researched BBC Scotland investigation Lawyers Behaving Badly, which revealed significant failures in self regulation of the legal profession, the much criticised and often pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) has issued a statement welcoming the BBC programme “for raising some important issues” on how complaints against solicitors are currently dealt with by the ‘independent’ regulator.

The SLCC, itself beset with complaints about how it mistreats clients & complainants and how it appears to operate on an anti-consumer platform, also claimed in a Press Release that it wished to work more closely with the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) and the Law Society of Scotland to ‘share information and intelligence with these organisations to help identify risks to the public’.

Statement from the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission regarding BBC Scotland’s Lawyers Behaving Badly investigation: On Wednesday night, the BBC screened the latest BBC Scotland Investigates: “Lawyers Behaving Badly”.   The programme investigated the regulation of the legal profession in Scotland and the role of the different organisations involved.  We welcome the programme for raising some important issues.

We know from our trends analysis that problems with solicitors often arise during important life events – buying and selling a house, divorce, wills.  The public rightly expects high standards of conduct and service from their solicitors and it is a serious matter when these are not met.

As the single gateway for all complaints against legal practitioners in Scotland, we provide the first point of contact in the legal complaints system.  In the four years from 1 July 2009-30 June 2013, we dealt with 4929 complaints.

Under the current system, it is our responsibility to investigate service issues.  In the last year alone, we awarded £250,000 in compensation or rebated fees for inadequate service.  We are upholding more complaints than ever while also offering complainers alternate means to get a resolution.  We also aim to reduce the occurrence of service issues by researching and producing guidance for the profession to help them improve.

Our powers regarding complaints about the conduct of solicitors raised with us are limited.  If we decide the complaint has merit, we will pass it over to the Law Society of Scotland to investigate.  We can investigate how it handles the complaint, but only if the complainer asks us to and the action we can then take is restricted.  We also audit the Law Society’s overall complaints process.  We have no oversight over the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT).

It is clear that we, the Law Society of Scotland, the Scottish Legal Aid Board and the SSDT could work together more closely.  We are already sharing information and intelligence with these organisations to help identify risks to the public.  We are committed to working with them to improve the effectiveness of the system and to continue to build public trust and confidence in Scotland’s legal system.

Commenting on the SLCC’s wish to work more closely with the Law Society & Scottish Legal Aid Board, a legal insider said the idea could only work if each of the three bodies had greater oversight over their operations and were able to gain public trust and confidence in their operation, combined with increased transparency.

He also said that if the three bodies were to work together, the Law Society of Scotland should be subject to the full requirements of Freedom of Information legislation, a proposal once supported by the former Chair of the SLCC, Jane Irvine, reported here: Legal Complaints Chief supports ‘consumer advantages’ of removing Law Society’s Freedom of Info immunity

Earlier this week, it was reported a spokesperson for the Legal Aid Board who gave reaction to the BBC’s investigation of dodgy lawyers also said SLAB supported an idea from the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission that a regulator’s forum should be set up.

However, it was recently revealed the troubled SLCC has its own issues of perceived pro-lawyer bias with a full complement of staff & Law Society insiders revealed in an exclusive Diary of Injustice report here : A SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP : Investigation reveals Scotland’s ‘independent’ legal regulator is mired in family, business & personal links to legal profession & Law Society

Speaking to Diary of Injustice this afternoon, a client who encountered significant delays and difficulties with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission said he felt like he “was talking to a bunch of lawyers” throughout the time he dealt with the SLCC. The client branded the SLCC as bad as the Law Society, calling the regulator “a lawyer set up to bury complaints against other lawyers”.

The hapless regulator then took nearly a year to accept the complaint against the solicitor concerned, who went on to time waste, then use mediation as a further time wasting measure, upon the failure of which, the complaint re-entered the investigation stage and ended up with only a partially upheld finding.

Speaking of his experiences with the SLCC, the client commented: “No matter what material is handed over to the SLCC and how often you have to make the points again and again that your solicitor has stolen money and property deeds, this regulator seems to allow crooked lawyers to go on working”.

He continued: “What use is a regulator when the SLCC does nothing even after evidence has been handed to it documenting the most cruel and pernicious offences committed by solicitors against their clients?”

Diary of Injustice has reported on the BBC’s investigation into self regulation of the Scottish legal profession in previous articles here: Lawyers Behaving Badly – a window into the world of lawyers regulating themselves

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