The Law Society of Scotland has criticised Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) proposals for a third consecutive above-inflation levy on solicitors, which it says will lead to rising costs for legal services consumers.
In its response to the SLCC annual budget and levy, the Law Society has described the overall proposed 9% rise as ‘unreasonable and wrong’ in an uncertain and potentially turbulent economic setting.
The proposed budget for 2019/20, if agreed, would generate an estimated total income of £3.7m for the SLCC, representing a rise of almost 40% in just four years, with the legal profession and clients having to fund an extra £1m of spending in that time.
The Law Society has stated that while the SLCC has sought views on how the budget should be shared across the profession – which while freezing the cost for some, could see sole practitioners face a possible 28% rise in their payment under one cost model – the overall costings proposed have not fully taken account of the impact that increased costs would have on the solicitors and their clients. In the context of a highly competitive market and an extremely uncertain economic backdrop, it believes the proposed rises are unacceptable.
The Law Society has also questioned the need for a levy of £8,000 regarding regulation of licenced legal services providers (LLSPs) since there are none in Scotland and the Law Society, while approved, has yet to be fully authorised as a regulator of LLSPs.
Alison Atack, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “The SLCC has put a rising number of complaints as the main reason for its third consecutive above-inflation rise. While we have seen a rise in recent years, there had been a drop in complaints handled by the SLCC prior to that. Complaints numbers remain low in the context of the number of transactions carried out by solicitors in Scotland and are a fraction of what was anticipated at the creation of the complaints handling body.
“Given it is ultimately the consumers of legal services who fund the costs of regulation, including complaints handling, alongside the need to maintain a Scottish legal sector which can compete in the wider legal services market, the SLCC must ensure every penny is spent wisely.
“That is why it is so important for the SLCC to be totally focused on its core complaints handling role. With an income of over £3 million for the handling of around 1,000 new complaints a year, the SLCC already benefits from having substantial resources at its disposal to fulfil its important statutory responsibility and should deal with complaints quickly and effectively.”
The response to the SLCC emphasised the need to continue to work jointly on improving complaints handling processes.
Ms Atack said: “It is essential that Scotland has an effective and efficient body for the handling of complaints against legal professionals. While research with members of the public shows high levels of confidence and trust in the Scottish legal profession amongst consumers, clients rightly depend on both the SLCC and the Law Society to act when the service provided or a solicitor’s conduct does not meet the high standards expected.
“We have been working with the SLCC on identifying ways of reducing complaints numbers and addressing the core issues which give rise to complaints and look forward to making further progress.”
The SLCC budget and levy is available to read on its website.