New figures have shown that despite a record number of solicitors in the year 2016/17, there were only 23 more complaints against the legal profession and this represents less than 1% of solicitor transactions.
The number of Scottish solicitors holding a Practising Certificate during 2016/17 was 11,824 compared with 11,422 the previous year. The latest annual report from the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), published today, Friday, 24 November, has shown the number of complaints against solicitors and other legal professionals in 2016/17 was just 23 more than the previous year equivalent to a 2% rise.
This is in stark contrast to SLCC’s suggestions that in the first six months of the year complaints received had increased by 23% and that they expected a continuing rise.
The SLCC had argued that a rise in numbers of complaints received required an increase in the cost of the annual levy on solicitors. The increase, almost eight times the rate of inflation, was heavily criticised by the Law Society of Scotland and wider legal profession when it was introduced earlier this year. The new figures show that there has been an increase of 2% in the overall numbers of complaints received – well below the SLCC’s prediction.
Lorna Jack, chief executive of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “Despite record numbers of Scottish solicitors, there were just 23 more complaints than the previous year. This equates to a rise of just 2% and is in stark contrast to the SLCC’s suggestion from earlier in the year of a double digit percentage rise in complaint numbers.
“When the SLCC increased the levy on solicitors by 12.5% earlier this year, it provoked widespread anger and frustration in the legal profession. These updated figures raise further questions around the SLCC’s justification for that increase, costs which ultimately have to be met by consumers.”
The Law Society said it was also close to proposing a series of reforms which could improve the whole system of legal complaints.
Ms Jack said: “We know the current complaints system is complicated, cumbersome and expensive and have pressed the Scottish Government to consider reforms to the way the legal sector is regulated as a whole. The current independent review of legal services offers a once in a generation chance to bring about change which will benefit consumers and the legal profession.
“We have been developing solutions we believe would deliver comprehensive reforms to make the whole complaints system simpler, quicker and more effective for those who depend on it. In addition, we are looking to make proposals about short-term changes to existing legislation that could help to speed up the SLCC’s process, in particular around whether or not a complaint is admitted to the process. We will publish these proposals in the next few weeks.”
Ms Jack also marked the retirement of current SLCC chairman, Bill Brackenridge, who is to step down after five years in post next month.
She said: “While the past 12 months have presented both organisations with some difficult issues to resolve, we have maintained a good dialogue with the SLCC throughout and continue to work well on a range of issues.
“On behalf of everyone at the Law Society, I wish Bill all the very best for his retirement as chairman of the SLCC board. He has overseen the development of the organisation and the creation of its four-year strategy published last year. We look forward to working with his successor.”