The Law Society of Scotland has called on the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to embrace major changes to the way it administers legal complaints in a bid to avoid an above inflation hike in costs.
The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) has proposed a 5.2% rise in its draft budget for 2018/19. A proposed rise of up to 10% in the levy which must be paid by solicitors would come over and above a rise of 12.5% in 2017. This comes at a time when other complaints handling bodies* are making efficiencies and controlling spending.
Responding to the SLCC’s budget consultation, the Law Society said it opposed the proposed above inflation increase in the SLCC budget and called on the SLCC to listen to its concerns and to work with the Society on ways in which the system can be made more efficient sooner rather than later.
Graham Matthews, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “As other public bodies and private businesses are working hard to cut costs, the SLCC is wrong to propose another above inflation hike in its annual budget.
“There was a great deal of frustration last year when the SLCC chose to impose a 12.5% increase. The SLCC needs to take on board the concerns raised and reverse its plan for an up to 10% increase in the levy which must be paid by Scottish solicitors.”
The Law Society believes the figures from the SLCC’s most recent annual report do not support the proposed increase. The total number of complaints requiring an SLCC investigation (either as service only complaints or as hybrid) fell from 336 to 276. Of those progressing into a full investigation, only 95 got to a determination stage, down from 102 the previous year.
The Law Society says the SLCC must change the way it works in order to be more efficient and cut costs.
Graham Matthews said: “People rightly ask why the SLCC is increasing its budget when eligible complaints for them to investigate are falling.
“Legal firms are showing real innovation in order to reduce costs and minimise client fees. In the public sector, pressure on funding is forcing organisations and agencies to think and act differently. The SLCC needs to embrace this kind of approach, to look afresh at how it operates and embrace some radical thinking to improve efficiency and cut costs. If it does then the SLCC can avoid imposing an above-inflation rise in costs on solicitors and their clients.
“Longer term, we are keen to work with the SLCC to streamline the complaints process through changes to regulations. Working together, we can make the whole system quicker, more efficient and deliver better outcomes for the public and the profession.
“We hope the SLCC Board will act as a result of feedback received. It is important that we have an effective complaints system that works well for both the consumer and the profession. Both organisations are engaging with the ongoing independent review of legal services regulation which offers the best opportunity to develop a consensus on how we improve the legal complaints system in Scotland."
* The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman has reduced its total expenditure since 2014/15 and the Legal Services Ombudsman in England and Wales reduced its operating expenditure by almost 23% between 2013/14 and 2016/17.