Mediation hearings hijacked, compensation only a fraction – say clients. THE LATEST annual report of the ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) - reveals increasing numbers of solicitors are evading full investigations and formal determinations on poor quality or dodgy legal services provided to Scottish consumers in the year 2014-2015.
The figures, based on complaints reported to the client-funded legal regulator from 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2015, reveal 1009 complaints about solicitors were ‘reported’ to the SLCC in the past year, and the number of complaints accepted for service and conduct rose from 319 to 424, with three cases relating to unnamed members of the Faculty of Advocates.
Nearly 200 cases were resolved or withdrawn before an eligibility decision was taken. The Complaints Commission claim 56 cases were resolved at mediation, a success rate of 76%.
However, the experience of clients reveal mediation is not an even handed or impartial approach.
Clients involved in mediation cases who contacted the media revealed that when they turned up for mediation hearings, the solicitors they had complained against brought additional representatives who were not supposed to be in attendance.
Clients revealed mediation hearings had been effectively hijacked mediation hearings by law firms with what one client described as “bully tactics”.
In another mediation hearing involving a client and a solicitor from a well known law firm, it was alleged the mediator desperately put forward the solicitor’s view there should be no settlement – even before the mediation hearing began.
2014-2015 SLCC Annual report – complaints down, up & pennies to clients. The SLCC’s annual report also reveals that at investigation stage 60 cases were resolved by report, and 21 cases by conciliation, with 30 cases withdrawn. A total of 132 cases - down from 210 the previous year – went to determination, of which 109 were wholly or partly upheld.
The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission claim that a total of £401,340 (up from £365K in 2013-2014) was agreed or awarded in compensation, fee refunds and reductions to Scottish consumers for inadequate professional service by Scottish lawyers during the year.
However, as the SLCC has refused to quantify the scale of financial losses alleged in complaints made about solicitors, it is difficult to estimate what percentage of compensation is actually being handed back to clients wronged by their solicitors.
In one instance reported to the media, it has been revealed a single solicitor is being investigated over complaints relating to a trust fund valued at over £500,000. The complainants have not received any compensation to-date, and the case has been on-going for over a year, with pressure being exerted on the complainants to enter mediation.
Residential property transactions remain the most common sources of client complaints, at 29%, followed by litigation (20%), family law (16%) and executries, wills and trusts (15%).
The most frequent types of complaints concern failures to communicate; failures to advise; delays; failures to provide information; failures to follow instruction and failures to prepare adequately.
Chair Bill Brackenridge commented: “It has been a year of performance in handling complaints and ensuring consumers get redress from their lawyers if they’ve received an inadequate service. The annual report also shows that we’re using complaints data to improve professional standards across the wider regulatory system.”
“A personal highlight was our successful lobbying for the power to convene a statutory consumer panel, which is now informing our plans for the future and the quality of our day to day work."We were also delighted to recruit Neil Stevenson as our new chief executive, charged with leading a longer term plan for the organisation to ensure we deliver value to consumers and to the sector.”
Former Law Society Director of Professional Support - Mr Stevenson - said: “We’re in a great position and now we’re looking ahead to the next four years to make sure that the SLCC continues to make a difference for consumers and the profession. We are looking forward to going out to public consultation in January on an exciting new four year plan. Our plan will consider how consumers select and experience legal services and their needs when things go wrong with a service, rather than just looking at the system from a perspective of regulations and institutions.”
The latest figures announced today, bear little difference from previous years reporting of complaints handling at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.
This year, the SLCC also dropped claims it was partly funded by the public after a statement which appeared in last year’s annual report angered the Law Society of Scotland.
Last year’s annual report under former Chief Executive Matthew Vickers, stated: “We are funded by a levy on the legal profession and hence, indirectly, from fees charged to the public.”
Under the new Chief Executive – Neil Stevenson - former Law Society Director of Representation and Professional Support – the annual report now states: “The SLCC receives no public money. We are funded by a levy on the legal profession, collected from individual practitioners by the relevant professional organisations."
However, Diary of Injustice revealed in 2008 - the SLCC had received around £2 million pounds of taxpayers money from the Scottish Government, which has never been repaid.
Funding for the SLCC is gathered from an annual levy on the legal profession – who in turn recover the levy with hikes in already sky high legal fees and charges to clients.
Neil Stevenson was appointed to the role of Chief Executive after the resignation of Matthew Vickers earlier this year, reported here: GONE MEDIATIN’: Pro-lawyer legal regulator loses another CEO as Matthew Vickers leaves Scottish Legal Complaints Commission for Ombudsman Services role
The Law Society’s decision to retake control of the ‘independent’ SLCC by placing one of their own in the CEO slot came after after the Scots legal profession was left reeling from the effects of the damaging BBC Scotland investigation “Lawyers Behaving Badly” - which blew the mask off lawyers investigating their own colleagues and how the legal profession covers up legal aid fraud.
Since the BBC programme aired in January 2014, the Law Society demanded significant changes to the SLCC after concluding the hapless complaints quango – staffed mostly by former Law Society insiders – failed to stand up for lawyers during the BBC Scotland investigation.
Another attempt by the Law Society to spin out a client satisfaction poll backed up with dodgy statistics came apart when DOI revealed the full extent of how the poll had been rigged - featuring in a media investigation here: OWNED POLL: Law Society ‘scripted’ survey criticised by Scottish Legal Complaints Commission - new data reveals few clients of dodgy lawyers ask legal regulators for help
The pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was created in 2008 as a result of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007
The legal quango – staffed mainly by former Law Society employees, solicitors and Ministerial appointed board members claiming up to £150K a year in expenses, has racked up staggering costs of well over £20 million to Scottish clients in the past seven years, with little to show for it.
Previous media investigations, reports and coverage of issues relating to the SLCC can be found here: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission - A history of pro-lawyer regulation.