Open letter to the profession on co-operating with the SLCC
The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) has published an open letter to the profession – reproduced below – on the duty to co-operate to support an efficient and effective complaints system.
For a number of years, we have been raising concerns about a significant minority of firms who delay or fail to respond to us when we request the information or files we need to investigate complaints against them.
While most firms do co-operate, the problem is not small. Over 300 solicitors a year fail to respond within the required timeframes. It is a persistent pattern of non-compliance which has a significant impact on our ability to carry out our statutory duties.
Firstly, it delays individual cases. That’s bad for the complainer, and for the practitioner who has the complaint hanging over them.
It also means we spend more time and money chasing firms and, in some cases, taking legal action to recover the file.
All of this increases our costs, which are passed onto the whole profession via our levy.
It undermines confidence in the profession with hundreds of members of the public each year, some of whom go on to raise these concerns with MSPs and other bodies.
When there’s a live public debate about how to ensure the complaints and regulation system can be more efficient and can best drive public confidence in legal services, this situation is of real concern.
We’ve raised this issue in our annual plans, budgets and reports over the last few years, and directly with the Law Society of Scotland and the Lord President.
In March 2022 we wrote to the Law Society of Scotland suggesting we work collaboratively to tackle the issue and proposing six actions. One of these was:
“A new rule, or amendment of rule B1.16, to make failure to respond to the SLCC a clear conduct issue”.
So we are very pleased to see that the Law Society of Scotland has recently introduced a new Rule and associated guidance which aims “to clarify and emphasise that solicitors have duties in relation to the SLCC, including a duty to comply with statutory notices”. The Rule underlines the point that co-operation with the SLCC “assists with a more efficient complaints system and helps to protect the reputation of the profession”.
The guidance also makes clear that a breach of that Rule could be the subject of a complaint against the solicitor. In practice, when a firm fails to respond within the statutory timescale, we inform the complainer of the cause of the delay and ask if they wish to add the delay as a further issue of complaint. It’s no surprise that most do. Complaints like that can and have been upheld as professional misconduct. In some cases, we have also seen the Law Society itself raise a complaint about these delays.
A situation where a Client Relations Manager can end up facing a conduct complaint, or a firm ends up facing court action, because they did not send a file to allow a relatively minor service complaint to be investigated, is clearly one all practitioners should want to seek to avoid.
We’d encourage the Society to continue to look at other ways tackle this issue and reduce the negative consequences for the wider profession.
In our role we’ll continue to work with lawyers who engage with us. We have published information for firms about what happens when we request a file for investigation, and we’re happy to speak to any firm who has questions or concerns about the information we’re asking for, or the timescale for compliance.
We can and do discuss options where firms are unable to provide the information requested within the statutory timescale. However, we will also seek to robustly require compliance where lawyers simply fail to respond, including taking court action where appropriate.
For lawyers, complying timeously with a statutory request from a regulatory body should be an expected part of being a member of a regulated profession. For most it is, and we want to thank those firms who do comply swiftly with our requests. For those who don’t, we encourage them to think about the impact on their clients, on their firm’s reputation and on their profession.
We want to see a meaningful and sustained reduction in non-compliance. Until that happens, we will keep exploring every option to ensure the statutory complaints process is delivered.