The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has repeated its warning that it will go to court if legal firms fail to deliver relevant files and documents, as a third hearing against one firm has been scheduled in the Court of Session.
The unnamed firm has so far failed to carry out a court order requiring it to deliver the files to the SLCC so that it can investigate a complaint by a client of the firm.
In August the SLCC went to court for the first time in such a case following ongoing concern over a number of years at the lack of cooperation from "a significant number of solicitor firms in Scotland" in dealing with complaints. Legal firms have a duty under statute to provide case files.
Chief executive Neil Stevenson commented: "It is simply unacceptable that a complaint cannot be investigated in a timely way because a firm chooses not to meet its statutory duties to deliver relevant files, to co-operate with the SLCC and to comply with court instructions. We are now testing the statute further than ever to see what can be done to ensure that we are able to access the files we need to investigate complaints.
"We have a further action pending against this same firm in relation to another client complaint, and have a serious concern that the current system is failing in terms of public protection. There are no regulatory powers to intervene, and due to rules prohibiting publicity, we have no powers to alert consumers considering using this firm that some current clients are already facing a total lack of engagement on concerns they have raised."
Mr Stevenson praised the firms that do cooperate, but said the SLCC had "tens of cases against other firms pending".
He added: "We have repeatedly raised this issue over the last few years in our annual reports, in the debate on regulatory reform, and in discussions with other sector bodies. We believe a more public interest focused system would place a greater emphasis on finding solutions where current regulation fails, and that for those with a particular role to play in defending the rule of law it should be the most serious of matters where a solicitor fails to abide by it.
"The cost of pursuing this, and the delay it causes for both parties, should be of grave concern to the profession. Ultimately, it will bear the cost of the additional time and money spent by the SLCC in getting access to files to which it has a statutory right.
"We hope this case, along with others already instructed, will send a strong signal that compliance with the law is not optional for lawyers."