Law Society of Scotland ‘frustrated and disappointed’ over Scottish Legal Complaints Commission fees hike

Written by Jenni Davidson on 26 April 2017 in News

The Law Society suggests the whole system for managing legal complaints needs to be

Law Society of Scotland president Eilidh Wiseman - Image credit: Law Society of Scotland

The Law Society of Scotland has said it is “frustrated and disappointed” over the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s (SLCC) budget, which it has laid before the Scottish Parliament.  

The budget includes a 12.5 per cent increase in the amount that will have to be paid by solicitors to the SLCC.

The SLCC is an independent body which investigates complaints against solicitors and advocates and is funded by a compulsory levy paid by all lawyers in Scotland.

The commission is required to consult on its budget, including the levy, which it then sets and lays before the Scottish Parliament.

The Law Society raised concerns about the proposed fee rise during the SLCC’s budget consultation and has questioned the justification for the increase. 

It suggests that such a substantial increase is unacceptable when the public sector is facing pressure to control costs and undertake strict financial discipline.

Hundreds of solicitors also emailed their MSPs to object to the plans. 

However, the SLCC final budget has now been formally laid before the parliament with no changes have been made in response to the concerns raised.

The Law Society has suggested the whole system for managing legal complaints needs to be reviewed to deal with the lack of oversight of the body and “cumbersome” process for managing legal complaints.

Law Society president Eilidh Wiseman said: “Despite all the concerns raised by the legal profession and by members of the Scottish Parliament, the SLCC has refused to make any changes to its budget proposals. 

“It is deeply frustrating and underlines the lack of oversight which exists. 

“The SLCC could have doubled or even tripled its budget and nothing could have been done, whether by the people who pay for it or our democratically elected representatives.

“Yesterday, the Scottish Government announced the details of an independent review of legal services and regulation. 

“We are keen for the review group to look at the whole system for legal complaints which is slow, complex, cumbersome and expensive.   

“The events of the last few weeks have also shown the need for the group to consider how we can improve accountability and oversight to avoid situations like this arising in the future.

“In the meantime, we want to thank all those MSPs who responded so positively to their constituents’ requests and made direct representations to the SLCC. 

“Those efforts were greatly appreciated.”

However, the SLCC said the rise followed “significant growth” in the numbers of complaints about lawyers and costs arising from recent court rulings and uncertainty they have caused.

It also pointed out that the freeze follows a freeze in previous years.

SLCC CEO Neil Stevenson said: “In recent years, we have been able to freeze or even reduce the levy, and have subsidised those reductions from our cash reserves, but we have always been clear that those reserves were not limitless and that a rebalancing of fees would be necessary.

“The new levy means that, in real terms, the increase in fees since 2012/13 is just over five per cent for most solicitors, and is actually a five per cent decrease for in-house lawyers over the same period.

“For solicitors in private practice – who account for around half of those who pay the levy –there will be an annual increase of £40 to £356 and for other groups the rise, in cash terms, is much lower. 

“For members of the Faculty of Advocates, it is actually a return to the level they paid in 2012-13. 

“Much has been said about the fact that even although complaint numbers are rising – and we need to look at the underlying reasons behind this – a large proportion of those complaints will not be accepted for investigation.

“This misses the key point that every complaint requires to go through a detailed eligibility assessment before we can decide whether it is admissible.”

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