The Scottish Law Agents Society (SLAS) welcomes the agreement between the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and the Law Society of Scotland to defer payment of half of this year’s levy, but remains concerned that the SLCC does not recognise the present crisis in the legal profession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It must now agree to revisit its spending plans and come up with a substantial reduction.
The SLCC’s attitude can be summed up in three words: “Crisis? What crisis?” The budget of the Commission has grown exponentially, despite an actual drop in the number of cases from its inception in 2007. It is not sufficient for SLCC merely to claim that “cases are more complex”. We suggest that its budget is akin to a runaway train.
SLAS has previously challenged the SLCC to “get real”, and to acknowledge that coronavirus is a game-changer. It threatens the existence of many legal firms, big and small alike. Many more are likely to face a serious downturn in business and revenue. Loss of firms will lead to a loss of competition in the Scottish legal market. The SLCC is demonstrating either lack of awareness or deliberate and reckless conduct.
The Commission’s budget plans were first proposed in January before the pandemic spread. We are now presented with exactly the same inflated levy but with payment simply deferred in part. The Law Society of Scotland has had to step in to organise deferment. The SLCC has just not taken proper account at all of the mayhem and threats to business that have engulfed the country.
The problem is that the SLCC is unaccountable to the profession, one that pays its entire costs. The Scottish Government does not pay for it and neither do complainers. There is something wrong with the Commission’s plans if it cannot make reductions in the levy or maintain the status quo with no increase, especially with the furlough on salaries. We think that a detailed investigation is required into the salaries and costs of SLCC during lockdown. We assume that the Commission is able to make considerable savings and that it ought to be able to finance a significant reduction in the levy. We are requesting the Scottish Government to look into this and veto the budget plans.
There is a bigger problem, and that is the SLCC itself. Despite seeming to harbour ambitions to be a regulator, it is meant to be a fair and impartial complaints service showing favour to neither complainer nor solicitor complained of.
As an organisation the SLCC is failing the profession and complainers. It operates at huge cost with little scrutiny and is the very worst model of a complaints body. It has lost the confidence of the legal profession. It is unfit for purpose and has had its day.
Andrew Stevenson, secretary, Scottish Law Agents’ Society