Proposals to reduce the time and cost involved in the present system of dealing with complaints against legal practitioners have been published for consultation today by the Scottish Government.

The consultation seeks to take forward shorter term reforms to the present system under the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, ahead of possible further reaching reforms to professional regulation as proposed in the review by Esther Roberton.

With the present statutory process criticised on all sides as cumbersome and inflexible, the new paper sets out ministers' objectives of:

  • reducing the overall time taken to deal with complaints;
  • achieving greater proportionality in the complaints system, allowing the SLCC to identify earlier in the process which issues are more likely to require investigation;
  • reducing the cost of the complaints system; continuing to ensure an independent and fair system; and
  • providing greater flexibility in the system.

The proposals comprise three "packages", headed:

A. To introduce a category of hybrid issue complaints – dealing with complaints raising both service and conduct issues as one complaint;

B. Changes to the process of assessment investigation, reporting, determination and conclusion – divided into six subheadings;

C. Changes to the rules in respect of fee rebates – to allow losses to a complainer that cannot be recovered from the solicitor to be met by the professional indemnity insurance scheme.

In an initial response from the Law Society of Scotland, Craig Cathcart, convener of the Regulatory Committee, said the Society had worked closely with the Scottish Government and SLCC over the last few years to identify a package to try and make the system quicker and more efficient.

"While they do not solve all the problems in the system, these changes offer a significant and positive step forward ahead of any primary legislation in the next term of the Scottish Parliament.

"Our hope is that, following this consultation, the Scottish Government will move forward quickly so these changes can be delivered for the rapid benefit of the public and the profession." (Click here for the full response.)

Neil Stevenson, chief executive of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission commented: "While this is not the full reform we believe is needed, it is an opportunity to draw on more than a decade of experience of dealing with complaints to identify a package of improvements that could make the complaints process more efficient and proportionate.

"We look forward to the consultation results and hope to see the proposals being taken forward by Scottish Government in the near future."

Click here to access the consultation. The deadline for responses is 20 February 2021.