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LAW ROGUES SURVEY: Consultation launched by Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – What should lawyers & clients expect from solicitors’ regulator run by vested legal interests?

03 Feb

Legal regulator seeks consumer & legal views on ‘new’ strategy. SCOTLAND’S ‘independent’ regulator of complaints about solicitors – the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) has launched a consultation seeking views from the public, clients & the legal profession on a strategy for the next four years.

The SLCC – created by the Scottish Government in 2008 at a cost of over two million pounds of taxpayers money, was originally planned to be a single gateway for all complaints relating to the legal profession, and a break from endemic dishonesty and corruption in the system of self regulation of solicitors – managed by the Law Society of Scotland.

However, the past eight years of ‘managing’ public complaints about solicitors has brought few headline success cases for clients of rogue solicitors solicitors – despite a staggering £20 million pounds of clients’ funds in the form of complaints levies thrown at the widely criticised pro-lawyer SLCC.

After eight years of doing little to raise standards in Scotland’s legal profession, the SLCC now claims : “We want to continue that journey: looking at greater efficiency and effectiveness (especially around early resolution); how we can share trends and learning from the many complaints we have dealt with to inform better practice; increasing our visibility; improving our own customer service; and drawing on best practice principles in regulation and consumer policy.  In our strategy we discuss why this approach is good for consumers, and good for the sector – high confidence in legal services plays a vital role in sustaining and growing the market.”

However, a recent media investigation uncovered most of the staff and investigators at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission are in-fact families, friends & business associates of solicitors, reported here: ‘Independent’ Scots legal watchdog consists of solicitors’ husbands, wives, sons, daughters, cousins, friends, & employers.

And in December last year, the commission announced it would publish selected details of cases the regulator had investigated in relation to corrupt lawyers.  NO NAME, NO SHAME: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission will protect identifies of rogue solicitors & dishonest law firms.

Pointedly, the SLCC refused to name or shame any solicitor or law firm involved in complaints and scams – leaving consumers in the dark on lawyers and their law firms who are the subject of frequent complaints for the same offences against clients & consumers of legal services in Scotland.

The latest annual report from the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, 2014-2015 SLCC Annual report – published in December 2015 – indicated the regulator had paid out £401,000 to victims of rogue or corrupt solicitors, reported here: ROGUES PAY: 1009 cases of rogue lawyers reported to ‘independent’ legal regulator as SLCC claim mediation success up, £401K awarded to clients of dodgy solicitors.

However, the figure of £401K is thought to be a tiny fraction of the amount of fraud involving solicitors and their clients every year, demonstrated alone in one on-going case brought to the attention of the media where a sole solicitor is involved in the disappearance of around £500,000 from a trust.

Now, seeking what some in the legal profession are calling a “51st shade of grey”, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has announced  a consultation on a new strategy for the next four years, aimed at putting consumer understanding at its heart.

The draft strategy outlines a number of key priorities for the SLCC including work with consumer groups, lawyers and professional bodies such as the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates.

This work includes greater efficiency and effectiveness in complaints handling, increased visibility for the SLCC and considering whether the current regulatory set up delivers effective protection and redress for consumers.

SLCC consultation 2016  – Your views count.

Speaking with regard to the consultation, Bill Brackenridge, SLCC Chair said,  “At a time when consumer rights and redress are very much on the agenda for all sectors, this strategy lays out the path to an even more effective and efficient legal complaints handling system, where we build on the learning from complaints we’ve already undertaken in the last seven years.”

“We’re currently in a strong position and now is a great time to start planning for the years ahead – to our 10th anniversary in 2018 and beyond.  We think we can deliver even greater value to consumers and to lawyers, but working in partnership is a key part of this.  We’re looking forward to hearing what our stakeholders want to contribute to the refreshed approach we’re laying out.”

Former Law Society director, Neil Stevenson  – appointed SLCC Chief Executive during 2015 added, “One area we think will be of particular interest is focus on the consumer journey – we tend to talk about regulation from the perspective of the pieces of legislation, or the institutions involved. With the strategy we’re consulting on, we’ve lifted techniques used with patients in the NHS, and used them to examine the pathways along which lawyers and consumers experience regulation.  It makes you look very differently at the current landscape – for example, should a single complaint travel across as many as four organisations to be resolved? And even if that is the best way of handling it, how do you work together to give the consumer a single explanation of the system and the different stages? ”

“Personally, another project I see as vital is work to look at situations where we decide a client has suffered poor service, but the firm is being disbanded and the client never gets the refund in fees we award.  We think this undermines confidence in the regulation of the sector, and want to work with others to look for solutions.  We believe clients should be sure they will always get redress when things go wrong, and we know lawyers also want to be able to give this reassurance, but that’s not a promise that can always be made at the moment.   Of course, the purpose of the consultation is to see what focus and projects others think are important, and we’d really encourage debate and input.”

Submit your questions, comments and responses to consult@scottishlegalcomplaints.org.uk.

The deadline for responses is Friday 11 March 2016.

The SLCC’s budget and operating plan for 2016-2017 are also out for consultation. All documents relating to the consultation can also be viewed on the SLCC’s website at the following links:

Draft Strategy for 2016 – 2020 (PDF, 1.3 MB)  Draft Operating plan for 2016-2017 (PDF, 715 KB) Draft Budget and proposed levies for 2016-2017 (PDF, 847 KB)  Consultation questions,  on which we would specially value your views (PDF, 705 KB)

Previous media investigations, reports and coverage of issues relating to the SLCC can be found here: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – A history of pro-lawyer regulation.

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