Ministers intend to make interim reforms to the Scottish legal complaints process by regulation, despite a generally negative response to the package of proposals put out to consultation at the turn of the year.
The news came as the analysis was published of the responses to the consultation, covering three "packages" which resulted from work by the Scottish Government with the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. These comprised:
Package A, introducing a category of hybrid issue complaints (covering allegations of both professional misconduct and inadequate professional services);
Package B, containing various changes to the process of assessment, investigation, reporting, determination and conclusion, in an attempt to speed up the process and conclude cases at an earlier stage;
Package C, proposing changes to the rules in respect of fee rebates.
The packages were worked out as measures that could be introduced in the shorter term while consideration continues of whether to make more fundamental structural reforms to the system of legal regulation, as recommended in the review by Esther Roberton.
The analysis reveals that of 59 responses received, 44 were from individuals, seven from the legal profession and eight from legal regulatory and other bodies. Individual respondents were predominantly of the view that the SLCC was not independent, was biased towards the legal profession and needed to be replaced – as to which the analysis notes that that is for the longer term reform. A smaller group were broadly supportive of the proposals.
Legal profession responses mainly disagreed with package A, citing concerns around double jeopardy, and increased tine to resolve complaints. Different respondents supported different elements of package B. Package C met with concerns about increased cost.
Other regulatory bodies, including the SLCC Consumer Panel, were broadly supportive but noted the lack of consumer input to the packages and called for attention to be paid to consumer views.
In a section headed "Next steps", the Scottish Government says it "recognises the pressures that remain on the legislative capacity of the Scottish Parliament as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and that the reform process may take a consequential amount of time". It therefore does not see a strong rationale for retaining the status quo in the shorter term.
"Based on the responses to this consultation the Scottish Government believes that there is support to bring forward the proposals, albeit with consideration of further reforms in the future. We will seek to introduce secondary legislation early in this new session of the Scottish Parliament to that effect.
"Further consultation will be undertaken on the details of any regulatory changes that are undertaken as a result of this consultation. The SLCC will require to develop, and publish, its policy on how it would use its discretion to ensure fairness and consistency in consultation with consumers/complainers and legal services regulators."
Responding to the report, Ken Dalling, President of the Law Society of Scotland, commented: "It will be important to ensure that robust checks and balances are retained so the profession and the public have confidence that any reforms are proportionate and will achieve a fair outcome.
"We will continue to work with the Scottish Government and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in taking forward proposals to improve and speed up the process, while looking ahead to further consultation on more substantial reform to the regulation of legal services."