The 2% rise in complaints against the legal profession does not justify a significant rise in the levy charged by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, according to the Law Society of Scotland.
Responding to Friday's publication of the SLCC's annual report for the year to 30 June 2017 (click here for news report), the Society pointed out that the headline increase represented only 23 more complaints against the profession than were made the previous year, and this represented less than 1% of solicitor transactions.
It is also matched by a rise in the number of Scottish solicitors holding a practising certificate during 2016-17, to 11,824 compared with 11,422 the previous year.
The Society said the outturn for the year was "in stark contrast" to suggestions from the SLCC that in the first six months of the year complaints received had increased by 23% and that they expected a continuing rise.
The 23% figure was cited as part of the SLCC's argument to justify a 12.5% increase in the annual levy on solicitors, which caused a storm in the legal profession when proposed early this year.
Lorna Jack, chief executive of the Law Society of Scotland, commented: “Despite record numbers of Scottish solicitors, there were just 23 more complaints than the previous year. This equates to a rise of just 2% and is in stark contrast to the SLCC’s suggestion from earlier in the year of a double digit percentage rise in complaint numbers.
“When the SLCC increased the levy on solicitors by 12.5% earlier this year, it provoked widespread anger and frustration in the legal profession. These updated figures raise further questions around the SLCC’s justification for that increase, costs which ultimately have to be met by consumers.”
The Society says it is also close to proposing a series of reforms which could improve the whole system of legal complaints.
Ms Jack continued: “We know the current complaints system is complicated, cumbersome and expensive and have pressed the Scottish Government to consider reforms to the way the legal sector is regulated as a whole. The current independent review of legal services offers a once in a generation chance to bring about change which will benefit consumers and the legal profession.
“We have been developing solutions we believe would deliver comprehensive reforms to make the whole complaints system simpler, quicker and more effective for those who depend on it. In addition, we are looking to make proposals about short-term changes to existing legislation that could help to speed up the SLCC’s process, in particular around whether or not a complaint is admitted to the process. We will publish these proposals in the next few weeks.”
She concluded with good wishes to SLCC chairman, Bill Brackenridge, who steps down next month after five years in post. “While the past 12 months have presented both organisations with some difficult issues to resolve, we have maintained a good dialogue with the SLCC throughout and continue to work well on a range of issues", Ms Jack said.
- Also commenting on the report, Angela Grahame QC, Vice Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, said: “It is heartening that complaints about advocates remain at a very low level. Less than 1% of the total complaints received by the SLCC are against advocates and of those, only four were accepted for investigation. There can never be room for complacency, however. We are committed to providing an extremely high level of service to the public and would wish to reassure them of our continuous efforts to maintain and improve standards.”