On Wednesday night, the BBC screened the latest BBC Scotland Investigates: “Lawyers Behaving Badly”. The programme investigated the regulation of the legal profession in Scotland and the role of the different organisations involved. We welcome the programme for raising some important issues.
We know from our trends analysis that problems with solicitors often arise during important life events – buying and selling a house, divorce, wills. The public rightly expects high standards of conduct and service from their solicitors and it is a serious matter when these are not met.
As the single gateway for all complaints against legal practitioners in Scotland, we provide the first point of contact in the legal complaints system. In the four years from 1 July 2009-30 June 2013, we dealt with 4929 complaints.
Under the current system, it is our responsibility to investigate service issues. In the last year alone, we awarded £250,000 in compensation or rebated fees for inadequate service. We are upholding more complaints than ever while also offering complainers alternate means to get a resolution. We also aim to reduce the occurrence of service issues by researching and producing guidance for the profession to help them improve.
Our powers regarding complaints about the conduct of solicitors raised with us are limited. If we decide the complaint has merit, we will pass it over to the Law Society of Scotland to investigate. We can investigate how it handles the complaint, but only if the complainer asks us to and the action we can then take is restricted. We also audit the Law Society’s overall complaints process. We have no oversight over the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT).
It is clear that we, the Law Society of Scotland, the Scottish Legal Aid Board and the SSDT could work together more closely. We are already sharing information and intelligence with these organisations to help identify risks to the public. We are committed to working with them to improve the effectiveness of the system and to continue to build public trust and confidence in Scotland’s legal system.