SLCC must consult widely on proposed funding changes, says Law Society
The Law Society of Scotland has called on the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) to run a full and open consultation on possible changes which would significantly change the way the body is funded.
The Society made its call in a formal response to the SLCC's proposed budget for 2014/15. It follows a decision to review the funding model for the complaints handling body, with a possible move towards more differential charges on solicitors and increased use of complaints levies.
Writing to the SLCC, Lorna Jack, Chief Executive of the Law Society, said the changes "have the potential to fundamentally change the way the SLCC is financed" and sought clarity on the timetable for the review.
The Society also welcomed the decision of the SLCC not to increase its general levy after increases in the last two years. Every practising solicitor must pay towards the costs of the SLCC with reduced rates for in-house lawyers and unemployed solicitors.
Welcoming this year's proposed cash terms levy freeze in the SLCC general levy, Lorna Jack said: "The Scottish legal profession, like all sectors, has been significantly impacted by the sluggish economic recovery which has followed the recession. With a still uncertain economic outlook, we know that our member firms have to work harder than ever to sustain their businesses. Similarly, in-house lawyers have to work to very limited and in many cases reduced budgets. Whilst the number of unemployed solicitors remains small when compared with other jurisdictions, numbers have increased. This requires all those with an interest in a successful Scottish legal profession to take an equal interest in the costs incurred by that profession.
"Whilst respecting the need for a robust system and adequately funded complaints handling body, we have long argued that the SLCC should not be immune from the drive for efficiencies as being seen in other public bodies. To that end, we are pleased to see the clear effort which you are making to control the operating costs at the SLCC for the forthcoming year."
Ms Jack also pledged to work with the SLCC to tackle the ongoing challenge of non-payment of compensation, fee rebates and complaints levies by a small minority of solicitors and to continue to work to reform the whole system of complaints to make it more efficient and less expensive.
However, the Society focused on elements within the SLCC's operating plan which make clear its intention to carry out a more significant review of its financial and charging model, with a possible matching of the general levy to risk and increasing the proportion of its running costs funded by the complaints levy.
Lorna Jack said: "Seven years on from the passing of the legislation which created the SLCC, this is an appropriate time to review and discuss the mechanisms for funding the complaints body. Whilst we need to carefully consider any new model and charging structure, we recognise the strongly held views of in-house lawyers over the levy which they must pay, with many feeling the charge bears little reflection of the costs which they as in-house lawyers place on the SLCC. However, the two options which the SLCC propose in its operating plan have the potential to fundamentally change the way the SLCC is financed and, as such, we hope any changes would form part of a full and open consultation, both with ourselves and with the profession."
Notes to editors
The full SLCC operating plan and levy for 2014/15 is available on the Society's website at www.lawscot.org.uk/slccbudget
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Please contact Val McEwan on 131 226 8884 or Suzy Powell on 0131 476 8115
18 March 2014