It is possible to feel a little bit sorry for the SLCC. Set up to end the public disquiet over the profession adjudicating on complaints against its own members, it is still never likely to be popular with lawyers as it carries out its duties. Yet it appears that some at least of the public have difficulty accepting that the system is not biased against them. So winning trust and confidence is high on its agenda, but easier said than done.
Hence the SLCC’s current consultation exercise, the subject of our main feature this month. When you consider the various stages a complaint has to go through, if it is formally determined rather than settled, including the possibility of parallel proceedings and the potential for appeal along the way, it is not surprising that the SLCC finds that some complainers have difficulty following what is going on.
Do not be surprised, then, if it concludes that a more streamlined and more obviously consumer-facing system is the answer. A change of this magnitude would mean new legislation; but with the Society gearing up to promote modernisation of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act in the next Parliament, this aspect of regulation is likely to be given fresh scrutiny at the same time.
Solicitors may be wary of the hurdles being lowered, given the SLCC’s extensive powers to award compensation. However, when you consider the penalties that, say, the Financial Compensation Authority or the Information Commissioner can levy, the SLCC is not in the same league. What ought to be more important is whether it is simple and cost-effective to seek redress if a decision is perceived to be wrong or unfair; here too the appeal landscape has changed since the SLCC was set up and we should consider whether less expensive routes should now be provided for.
It should be acknowledged that the SLCC is making efforts to help solicitors perform better where it sees patterns of dealing with clients that regularly give rise to complaints, and its business plan – also out to consultation – proposes further developments on this front. To give the profession its due as well, the SLCC acknowledges in our feature that most solicitors are courteous and co-operative when the SLCC has to investigate them. If the consultation and any resulting legislation are considered in the same spirit, that would increase the chances of the outcome leading to the SLCC’s stated goal of greater public confidence – and that would be a result for the profession too.