The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission received 1452 complaints last year, however it only fully upheld one single complaint. ANYONE hoping for a crackdown on 'crooked lawyers' in Scotland will be in for a shock today after the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, revealed in yesterday's announcement of the SLCC’s 2009-2010 Annual Report (pdf), it fully upheld only ONE SINGLE COMPLAINT against an ‘unknown legal practitioner’.
The SLCC’s evident unwillingness to tackle head-on the many well known rogue elements of Scotland’s legal profession appears to be the staggering product of a decade long consumer campaign & the Scottish Parliament & Scottish Government’s attempt to bring ‘independent’ regulation to Scotland’s legal services industry in the form of what is now widely regarded as little more than a quango staffed by lawyers, ex-lawyers, retired senior Police Chiefs, legal academics and other multi-job quangocrats.
Musical chairs or musical complaints ? For the second year running, the SLCC sent most complaints back to the Law Society of Scotland. The amazing figures released yesterday in the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s second annual report also show the famously anti-client SLCC yet again sent most of the complaints it received this year back to the Law Society of Scotland, just as it did last year. The second annual report, covering the period from 1 July 2009 until 30 June 2010 reveals the SLCC received a total of 3,561 enquiries during that period, resulting as it claimed, in 1,452 cases classified as “legal complaints”. However, the majority of these cases (928) were sent back to the Law Society of Scotland or Faculty of Advocates under the SLCC’s controversial policy of refusing to deal with any legal business or cases involving instructions given to solicitors which occurred prior to 1 October 2008, the date the SLCC formally began operating, while others were apparently closed ‘as being out of the SLCC’s jurisdiction’.
After sending the majority of the “legal complaints” back to the Law Society of Scotland, the overfunded Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which has also received millions of pounds of taxpayers money during 2007-2008, revealed it is now carrying a whopping current cash surplus (dubbed a ‘reserve’) of nearly two millions pounds while only managing to accept a meagre 204 complaints to be dealt with by its highly paid staff & board members, some of whom are pocketing salaries of around £1,300 per week.
Complaints, and how they were handled by the SLCC. Of the 204 complaints the SLCC reported it had or was actually dealing with during the last year, amazingly, the law complaints quango only managed to fully uphold one single complaint, along with a handful of others being ‘mediated’ or ‘resolved’ in ways not fully described. The Annual report states : *17 complaints were resolved through mediation and 17 others still under consideration for mediation at the end of the year; * 170 complaints went to investigation, of which 92 were still in hand at the end of the year; * of these, 23 were resolved at or before the stage of an investigation report; * seven were withdrawn by the complainer; * 48 complaints were referred for determination, of which eight were partially and one fully upheld, 15 were not upheld, one was withdrawn, and 23 were still being considered at the end of the year.
Chief executive Rosemary Agnew said the number of enquiries and complaints coming to the SLCC was lower than originally predicted. She commented: "This may be due to a number of factors such as the economic downturn. We have responded by adopting a cautious approach to recruitment, expanding only to meet the needs of our current workload, and at the end of the financial year, we employed 29 members of staff instead of the predicted 45, which was the anticipated figure prior to our opening in 2008.”
Ms Agnew continued : “We have successfully established the ‘gateway’ for all complaints about legal practitioners and deal directly with complaints about inadequate professional service. In line with our aim to resolve complaints at the earliest opportunity, we continue to develop our mediation function and aim for resolution through both formal and informal approaches.”
Breakdown of complaints made against solicitors to the SLCC. The SLCC’s media release reported that the largest proportion of complaints received related to residential conveyancing, areas of business not specified, followed by litigation, Employment Law, Executries & Wills (a favourite client rip-off) and family law. Complaints about a solicitor's or advocate's conduct are still referred to the relevant professional body. In the year there were 142 such complaints against solicitors and two against advocates. In addition 216 cases were accepted under the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman jurisdiction, and 180 opinions completed.
SLCC’s 2010 Annual Report (page 19) revealed the quango currently holds a whopping £1.86 million in ‘reserves’. The SLCC, attempting to play down its controversial gigantic cash surplus (dubbed a ‘reserve’), reported the figure it was currently holding, of £1.86 million, (£1,867,000.) compares with one of over £1.5m for the first nine months of the SLCC's operation, following which the Commission cut the annual levy payable by solicitors to £235 for the current year. The SLCC went onto claim that “actual reserves” at year end were £1.12m, or just under five months' operating costs” as it had decided to ring-fence some £740,000 to underwrite the generally levy in the 2010/11 operating year by transferring it from reserves to income – in other words, the SLCC is, of sorts going to hand back £740,000 to the legal profession when it reduces next year’s levy on all legal practitioners which are covered by its regulation.
Law Society of Scotland’s ‘Access to Justice’ Committee said the SLCC should be ‘taken over’ by the Law Society. The reported surplus of £1.86 million now confirmed in the SLCC’s 2010 Annual Report also pokes significant holes in the Law Society of Scotland/SLCC takeover spat which hit the headlines last year, when the Law Society of Scotland’s ‘Access to Justice’ Committee alleged the SLCC was supposedly carrying a gigantic six million pound surplus, with Society representatives apparently going onto suggest in the same newspaper stories that the Law Society of Scotland should, in the name of saving the taxpayer some money, take over both the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and even more worryingly, the Scottish Legal Aid Board.
Readers can find out more about the battle between the Law Society & the SLCC over a suggested takeover, and dubious media fiddling regarding a now wholly untrue surplus figure, here : Dailly's Law : Law Society ‘takeover plot’ for SLCC & Legal Aid Board backfires over leak of law complaints quango’s alleged £6 million surplus. The idea of a Law Society takeover was, however swiftly rebuffed by one of Scotland’s leading QCs, Paul McBride, who compared the idea to putting Homer Simpson in charge of a doughnut factory, reported here : Doughnuts, principles and no £6m surplus : Law Society’s backroom plot to take over Legal Aid Board attacked by top QC Paul McBride. The argument was closed down when the Law Society issued a media manipulation directive, reported HERE which may well also be aimed at me, bless their souls (if they have any).
SLCC’s Chair Jane Irvine wrote in her annual message about providing a complaints service. Jane Irvine wrote : “Our priority this year has been to provide a complaint service. In my view, the range of legal services provided means our complaints are very diverse. The range can include complaints about limited advice on dog control, complaints that poor representation was provided in a murder trial or complaints regarding badly drawn up title deeds in a multimillion pound international property development. Every case we receive involves something important to the person who raises it and the person who provided the service, and just like diverse complaints, diverse people's’ needs do not always fit rigid systems. As a result we must flex our complaint handling powers to ensure we work in a way that meets multiple needs.”
On the issue of the many legal challenges to the SLCC’s powers over complaints in Scotland’s Court of Session, Ms Irvine went onto say : “It is inevitable that new legislation will be challenged. Our board prepared for this by setting aside money to fund any legal processes and during the year, we received 11 challenges with the majority still being heard in the Court of Session at the year end. The outcomes of these appeals are important to us”.
Readers can compare the ‘progress’ the SLCC has made in a year by reading last year’s SLCC Annual Report, which can be read in more detail, here : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission reveals it passed most complaints about lawyers back to Law Society, has failed to act on Master Policy report where the quango revealed it was then carrying a surplus (now called a ‘reserve’) of £1.565 million pounds The SLCC’s full audited accounts for 2009-2010 can be found HERE (pdf)
The Law Society of Scotland’s almost simultaneous Press Release responding to the publication of the SLCC’s Annual Report quickly called for further reductions in the charges levied on all its member solicitors, charges which fund the operation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.
Lorna Jack Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland, revealed in emails to have apparently bullied Communities Minister Fergus Ewing into threatening the SLCC over the question of its levy rate earlier this year, said: "We are pleased that the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has said they will be "asking for less" when they set the levy for solicitors later this year. We hope this will be a meaningful reduction given the Commission's reserves now stand at over £1 million.
Ms Jack continued : "It is important for the Commission to work as efficiently as possible and carefully manage its budget, particularly in the current economic climate when the solicitors who fund the Commission still face tough business decisions. The consultation on the Commission's budget will begin shortly and we are urging solicitors to contact us so their views can be included in our own submission to the Commission as part of that consultation."
Philip Yelland, the Law Society of Scotland’s Director of Regulation & previous Director of the Society’s ‘Client Relations Office, well known for its brutal, even deadly treatment of clients who dared complain about their solicitor, said: "It is good to see a fall in the number of complaints made against solicitors compared with last year, which we believe has been party driven by firms dealing more effectively with complaints at source. However, more work needs to be done to ensure a better understanding of the reasons behind this reduction."
While the legal profession pats itself on the back for yet another year which has seen such successes as the SLCC board member’s lavish expenses claims, its continuing failure to monitor the Law Society of Scotland’s infamously corrupt Master Policy & Guarantee Fund after more than two years of operation, an unrivalled anti-client attitude openly displayed by many of its board members & staff, and of course, its mounting troubles in the Court of Session with lawyers openly seeking to challenge its remit, any thoughts of consumer protection appear to have taken a back seat against the many rogue lawyers who remain working in Scotland’s legal services market.
One single complaint fully upheld in a year. Its not much of a badge of success now, is it. We don't even know which law firm this one complaint involves, nor do we know the identities of all the other law firms, solicitors & others reported to the SLCC, Law Society of Scotland or Faculty of Advocates. However, in England & Wales, their new Legal Ombudsman may soon be publishing the names of solicitors & complaints decision. Now … how about bringing some of that openness to Scotland, so consumers really do know what they are getting into when they walk through the doors of a lawyers office ?
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill spent over £2 million of public funds on the SLCC’s lavish start-up costs. I’d also like to suggest, as we are in a recession, and since the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is so flush with cash, the SLCC should now begin to pay back its start-up costs of two million pounds to the public purse. After all, two million could be better used for hospitals, community care, or even other parts of the justice system such as Policing & anti-crime measures, rather than continuing to give taxpayers money to the legal profession and its anti-client regulatory regime which is anything but independent.
My earlier coverage of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and its much less than expected performance as a regulator of complaints against Scotland’s legal profession, can be read here : The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – The story so far