A guide to how principles of consumer protection should be applied to legal services was launched today by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission's Consumer Panel.

Aimed at legal consumers and produced by the independent advisory panel, its publication marks International Consumer Rights Day (15 March) – the day on which, in 1962, President John F Kennedy gave a key speech to Congress in which he set out his vision for consumer protection.

The seven principles cover:

  • overcoming any barriers to accessing the services needed;
  • reliable comparative information in making a choice of service provider;
  • proper regulation along with good internal monitoring of service quality;
  • information at the right level to permit informed decisions as a case progresses;
  • fair treatment, without discrimination due to learning or physical disabilities or lack of legal knowledge;
  • a say in the way services are received, such as the form and regularity of communications; and
  • access to independent and effective redress if things have gone wrong.

Chair of the Consumer Panel, Carol Brennan, commented: “When I’m speaking to businesses about consumer principles, I am sometimes asked whether it is really reasonable to encourage increasingly high expectations for service delivery at a time when professional services face unprecedented regulatory and financial pressures. 

“When I answer that question, I often refer back to JFK’s seminal speech about consumer rights. Kennedy recognised one fundamental principle: consumer trust equals consumer spending. In other words, embracing consumer rights is good for the economy."

She continued: “As a consumer panel, we are aware that when it comes to professional legal services, applying the consumer principles isn’t always straightforward. 

“We are often not in a position to judge the technical quality of the work or it may be years before issues come to light. However, consumer principles are just as relevant to those services provided by lawyers. 

“Indeed, the vision we have set out does not – and cannot – fall solely to the legal sector. Transparency, access to information and adequate redress all demand input from regulators, complaint handling bodies and consumer organisations. In summary, we all have a role in ensuring that Scotland continues to offer an internationally well-respected legal sector.“

The guide can be accessed on the Consumer Panel page of the SLCC website.