Solicitor facing contempt over failure to produce files for SLCC

Solicitor facing contempt over failure to produce files for SLCC

The Inner House of the Court of Session has set out its preliminary views following a hearing about a solicitor’s non-compliance with a request by the SLCC for files and responses required to investigate a complaint.

Lords Malcolm, Pentland and Tyre ordered the solicitor to hand over the files and stated the court expects early compliance with the requirement to provide a detailed response to the complaint. The court will continue the hearing in a month’s time to give the SLCC time to consider the evidence.

The court indicated that it was minded to make a finding of contempt of court against the solicitor, but will delay a final decision until the continued hearing. However, Lord Malcolm stated that the court wished to make clear that in delaying the final decision the court is “in no way diluting the seriousness of this matter”.

The court also asked about the role of the Law Society in relation to this type of case and asked to be informed of any communications to or from the Law Society of Scotland in connection with this matter.

The court heard that the solicitor had “put her head in the sand” but accepts that her conduct and failure to comply with a court order was inexcusable. However, Lord Pentland questioned whether burying one’s head in the sand was any different to wilfully ignoring an order from the court, and said the solicitor’s actions showed a complete lack of respect to both the court and to the SLCC.

Lord Pentland also noted that there are support mechanisms available to solicitors who are struggling, including the Law Society of Scotland’s Professional Practice team and charity LawCare.

Neil Stevenson, the SLCC’s chief executive, said: “We are grateful to the court for its clear statement on the seriousness of this issue and its comments on the impact of the solicitor’s actions on the client who made the complaint and on the SLCC’s ability to discharge its statutory duty to investigate it.

“As we have repeatedly highlighted, this lack of compliance also has a significant wider impact, affecting public confidence in regulation and in the legal profession, and increasing the cost of regulation. The cost of the staff time, legal costs and court fees, are necessarily passed on to the wider profession and through them, to clients. This is the case even when we are awarded costs as they never cover everything we expend in pursuing the files and responses.

“We are currently consulting the profession on the fairest way to fund our work and would welcome feedback on how best to balance contributions from across the profession with a ‘polluter pays’ approach which means those who increase the costs of regulation fund a greater part of those costs.

“We look forward to the court’s final decision on this case next month. In the meantime, following significant delay, time and cost, we can get on with our role in considering the files and investigating the complaint.”

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