Report reveals Scottish Legal Complaints Commission only fully upheld SEVEN complaints against crooked lawyers in 2010-2011. CONSIDERABLE media scrutiny of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) has forced Scotland’s notoriously anti-consumer law complaints regulator to finally publish client compensation data for the first time in its three year existence. The figures released by the SLCC in its latest annual report for 2011 show that up to £2,061 has been awarded to clients during the SLCC’s investigation of complaints and in one case, an award of up to £9,261 after the SLCC had upheld a complaint. The annual report also reveals the SLCC received 2,598 enquiries and 1,090 complaints made by members of the public against ‘crooked lawyers’ to add to the 274 in hand at the start of the year, yet the ‘independent’ SLCC admits it only managed to fully uphold a meagre SEVEN COMPLAINTS (out of 88) against ‘crooked lawyers’ in the past year – six more than the ONE single complaint it fully upheld last year.
The SLCC’s latest annual report for 2011 reports that of the 1,090 complaints received by the £1.8 MILLION POUND cash-in-the-bank-happy Scottish Legal Complaints Commission this year, 503 complaints were ruled ineligible for investigation despite protests from many clients over the handling of their apparently ‘ineligible’ cases while 81 conduct complaints were referred to the Law Society of Scotland and 4 complaints were referred to the Faculty of Advocates for investigation. Of the remaining, 210 complaints were dealt with and closed by the SLCC, and 566 were still in hand at the year end, including 290 awaiting a decision on eligibility.
The most common reasons for a complaint being declared ineligible were that it was frivolous, vexatious or totally without merit (160 cases), or because the complaint was out of time (146 cases), the limit normally being one year from when the professional relationship ended. Some cases also continued to be referred to the professional bodies under the transitional arrangements.
Fifty seven complaints were resolved by mediation, and one was withdrawn. A further 42 complaints were resolved by report or conciliation at the complaint investigation stage, and 22 more were withdrawn. In six of the cases, clients were awarded an abatement of fees ranging from £200-£2,000 with an average payout of £893, and in 13 cases a payment of compensation was awarded to the client, ranging from £40-£2,061 with an average payout of £517. Total amounts awarded to clients at the investigation stage of complaints were £5,356 for abatement of fees and £6,723 in compensation awards.
However, mediation has its own dangers, as it appears law firms who are involved in disputes with multiple clients have used the mediation service to escape any determinations in complaints, and with the SLCC apparently not collating data on whether the same ‘crooked lawyers’ keep appearing at mediation hearings, the mediation system may well be doing more harm than good for consumer protection.
The SLCC only managed to fully uphold a total of 7 complaints in the last year despite significant numbers of complaints made by the public against lawyers. A further 88 complaints progressed to the formal determination stage (where the SLCC is forced to make a decision on the complaint), of which ONLY SEVEN COMPLAINTS were upheld in full during the entire year, while 20 complaints were partly upheld, with the remaining 61 complaints not upheld. A small number of 26 cases from the 88 complaints required the practitioner to refund or abate fees and/or pay the complainer compensation (some required both). Awards made to clients at the determination stage showed the same range of fee abatements, with an average payout of £650, and compensation payments between £75 and £9,261 with an average payout of £979.
The total amount awarded to clients at determination stage for the last year was £4,550 for abatement of fees and £25,446 in compensation awards. However, the statistics come with a large caveat, as the compensation award figures now published by the SLCC do not document or reflect the actual quantum of exactly how much money clients believe they have actually lost as a result of their solicitor’s actions in the cases where compensation awards were made.
It should also be noted no compensation award figures have yet been published for 2008-2009 & 2009-2010 and the total amounts paid so far in 2010-2011 which appear on the low side of expectations, dwarf the staggering costs of running the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission along with its lavish Central Edinburgh offices & generous remuneration packages of up to £312 a day for board members who between them have claimed up to £160,000 a year for the three years the SLCC has existed.
SLCC Chief Executive Rosemary Agnew denied journalists access to compensation data amid false promises of early publication. Diary of Injustice had requested the compensation award figures for the last three years via Freedom of Information legislation in July 2011. However, the SLCC’s current Chief Executive, Rosemary Agnew refused to release the data, branding the request as “vexatious”. Ms Agnew went onto claim the compensation data was to be published within 12 weeks of the July request, however no publication was made and the Scottish Information Commissioner Mr Kevin Dunion found the SLCC had mishandled FOI requests for the data. A second FOI request after Mr Dunion’s investigation was also refused by the SLCC, who have now published only the compensation data for the last financial year available.
You can read more about the SLCC’s refusal to hand over the compensation data in response to FOI requests and the Scottish Information Commissioner's investigation, here : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission refuse to publish details of ‘loose change’ client compensation as board & staff live it up on YOUR millions and here : SCROOGE’D : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission buries ‘bad news’ annual report at Christmas, again refuses to release ‘compensation to clients’ data
A legal insider speaking to Diary of Injustice today explained the reluctance of the SLCC to publish client compensation data He claimed : “I think the SLCC have avoided publicising compensation figures in previous annual reports due to worries that if the amounts were published it may encourage more clients to make complaints & compensation claims in the hope they could recover their losses via the SLCC instead of pursuing complicated compensation claims against their solicitors via the Law Society of Scotland’s Master Policy.” which as we all now know holds little chance of success for members of the public making claims made against negligent or crooked lawyers via the client hating Scottish courts.
There is also a suggestion a deliberate decision was taken not to collect or retain data on compensation awarded to clients in previous years, a claim now being investigated by Diary of Injustice.
Breakdown of complaints by subject handled by the SLCC in 2010-2011. The Commission also reports that it dealt with 50% of complaints within 100 working days, 85% within 200, and 95% within 300. The most common categories of complaints for the year were residential conveyancing (22%), litigation and family law (15% each), and executries, wills and trusts (12%), among others. Other categories of complaints running at around 2% per subject of the total numbers of complaints received by the SLCC were Housing, Landlord and Tenant, Financial Services - Other, Bankruptcy and Insolvency, Business Category, Commercial and Company Law Financial Services - Endowment Policies, Mental Health, Planning and Compulsory Purchase, Child Law, Consumer Law, Welfare Benefits, Agricultural Law, Negligence, & Taxation.
The annual report also reveals that the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission managed to spend less money than budgeted, with actual expenditure of £2,408,000, against a budget of £2,839,000 and income of £2,232,000, giving a deficit on the year of £175,000. The Commission's reserves at the year end stood at £1,816,000 (down from £2,025,000 the year before), of which £1m has been earmarked to be gifted back to lawyers to underwrite the general levy in 2011-12.
Regarding the TWO MILLION POUNDS of taxpayer funds spent by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s Justice department on the SLCC’s start up costs & lavish perks handed out to board members, not one single penny has been returned by the SLCC to public coffers despite calls for the money to be repaid so it can be better used in other areas of public services.
Jane Irvine, Chair of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. Introducing the report, the chair, Jane Irvine, said it had been a year of "significant progress" for the Commission. She was keen that the SLCC should "start saying more" to encourage the profession to learn from complaints, but commented: "we have decided to be cautious about drawing conclusions from the limited information we hold; including statistics regarding numbers and types of complaints coming to us. It is not sensible to draw inferences from only two and a half years of limited information about a profession as complex as the Scottish legal profession".
Ms Irvine, who at one point also supported making the Law Society of Scotland compliant with Freedom of Information legislation, also claimed the SLCC was continuing to "lobby the Scottish Government for changes to the Act to allow our complaint handling to become more efficient and user friendly" while in opposing circles, the Law Society of Scotland continues to lobby the Scottish Government at every chance to tone down what few powers the SLCC has, along with ensuring the SLCC refrains from protecting consumers against ‘crooked lawyers’.
Yet with only SEVEN complaints fully upheld in a single year, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has a long way to go before it can begin to be trusted to regulate Scotland’s increasingly corrupt legal services market, where client funds are often seen as easy meat by solicitors out to make a quick kill and an easy get-away from any repercussions via lawyer biased regulators such as the SLCC & Law Society of Scotland.