Complaints about the Commission
10 Apr 17
It is not surprising that solicitors are complaining about the SLCC budget and levy – but what should be done?
Relations between the Society and the SLCC have always tended towards the cool, but there is no mistaking the unseasonal chill that has prevailed since the SLCC unveiled its budget proposalsfor 2017-18, complete with 121⁄2% increase in the annual levy payable by legal practitioners.
Nor is there much doubt that the Society is in tune with members’ concerns in challenging the rise as way beyond anything that would be considered acceptable in a body funded out of general taxation. Given the 5,000-plus emails to MSPs (according to Society tweets) in the first days following the Society’s call for representations after the SLCC confirmed its figures for the year, something approaching half the practising profession has already made its point, unless some members have been organising mass petitions.
Will it have an impact? Naturally the SLCC had its defences ready, setting out not just the headline rise in complaints, but the work that goes into even confirming a complaint as ineligible, the subsidy from reserves applied in recent years and the longer term comparisons regarding what is levied.
Regarding eligibility, the article published online with last month’s Journal reveals that the process of confirming a complaint as ineligible is rather more elaborate than might be supposed, though it would be difficult to say whether it is unnecessarily so without inspecting individual files. As for budgeting, while the SLCC undoubtedly was over-cautious at the outset in making provision for its needs, it has since reduced its reserves; and the arguments about it spending money on activities beyond its core functions are not all one way, if these are part of its statutory remit.
Questions might be asked more urgently why the SLCC did not agree a special case to the Court of Session, following the ruling against the competency of “hybrid” complaints, to avert the need for separate appeals in every such case where the Society wishes to continue to pursue the misconduct element. Beyond that, the principal challenge must be over whether it could do more with less. The SLCC’s accounts are subject to “best value” Government standards and audited through Audit Scotland. But its feature of being funded by a levy on professionals appears to result at present in it not being subject to the same budgetary restraint and oversight at the crucial forward planning stages as other bodies that perform public service functions.
No doubt the thinking behind the original legislation was to protect it, as an independent body, from political or other interference. But it is not in anyone’s interests, surely including the SLCC’s, that there is not a more overt method of giving some reassurance at the outset that the profession’s, and ultimately the public’s, money is being used to best effect.