The Law Society of Scotland is urging its member solicitors to write to their MSPs over the annual levy to be charged by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission for 2017-18 – which the SLCC today confirmed would go up by 12.5%, or £40 at the full rate.
A war of words has broken out between the two bodies since January when the SLCC announced its proposed budget and levy for the year from 1 July, with the complaints body pointing to a 12% rise in complaints last year and the Society claiming it should be absorbing additional demands within existing resources, as publicly funded bodies have had to.
In a message to members today, Society President Eilidh Wiseman referred to the Society's official response to the budget consultation, which "highlighted the deep anger and frustration" among solicitors at the proposals. "We were clear in describing the proposed rise as unacceptable, especially in the context of the work in the rest of the public sector to control costs and deliver efficiencies", she stated.
Having heard confirmation of the increase, she continued, "We simply do not believe this matter can be left... We are now encouraging all Scottish solicitors to contact their local Members of the Scottish Parliament and ask them to intervene. Whilst there is no formal mechanism to veto the proposals, we hope pressure from MSPs will encourage the SLCC to think again."
The SLCC has to lay its final budget and levy plans before the Scottish Parliament, but this is for information and is not subject to parliamentary approval.
Earlier today the Society called for the Scottish Government to prioritise reform of the regulation of legal services, after the SLCC announced its decision.
Describiung it as "deeply troubling" that the SLCC had ignored the Society's concerns, Ms Wiseman commented: "It underlines the complete lack of oversight or accountability which exists. The SLCC could have doubled or even tripled its budget and those who are required to fund it would have had no recourse.
“We simply do not believe this kind of rise would be suggested or approved if the SLCC was funded by taxpayers’ money instead of a levy on the legal profession. Whilst it is solicitors who fund the vast majority of the SLCC’s spending, consumers should also be concerned as it is clients who ultimately pay through their solicitors’ fees.
“It is clear there is an inherent unfairness in the current system which is in need of urgent reform."
Defending the SLCC's proposals, chief executive Neil Stevenson said: “In recent years, we have been able to freeze or even reduce the levy, and have subsidised those reductions from our cash reserves, but we have always been clear that those reserves were not limitless and that a rebalancing of fees would be necessary.
“The new levy means that, in real terms, the increase in fees since 2012-13 is just over 5% for most solicitors, and is actually a 5% decrease for in-house lawyers over the same period.
“For solicitors in private practice – who account for around half of those who pay the levy – there will be an annual increase of £40 to £356 and for other groups the rise, in cash terms, is much lower. For members of the Faculty of Advocates, it is actually a return to the level they paid in 2012-13.
“Much has been said about the fact that even although complaint numbers are rising – and we need to look at the underlying reasons behind this – a large proportion of those complaints will not be accepted for investigation. This misses the key point that every complaint requires to go through a detailed eligibility assessment before we can decide whether it is admissible.”
Bill Brackenridge, SLCC chairman, added: “We have committed to working with the various professional bodies, including the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates, in the months ahead to help ensure that we further improve the levy process for future years.”