New year, new rules
The regular feature from the SLCC introduces the important changes to the Commission’s Act and rules which came into force on 1 January
Early last year, the SLCC engaged with the professional bodies and a number of consumer-interest groups to look into potential improvements to the Commission’s legislative framework. As a result of that collaborative exercise, a number of changes have been made to the Legal Aid and Legal Profession (Scotland) Act 2007 with effect from 1 January 2015.
In the legislation
Some of these changes are designed to improve the process for dealing with complaints.
These include giving the Commission the ability to review the continuing eligibility of a complaint already accepted into the process where fresh information comes to the Commission’s attention. Although not a provision which we expect to use very often, it will address those rare occasions where we had previously been forced to continue investigating a complaint where, for example, it had subsequently become apparent that it should have been ruled out of time. Any decisions made under this new provision will be appealable to the Court of Session.
Another operationally beneficial change includes the ability to discontinue and reinstate complaints. This is elaborated on by changes to the Commission’s rules – which also take force from 1 January 2015 – describing those situations where we are likely to discontinue. These will include situations where a complainer repeatedly fails to correspond with us or otherwise disappears. Similarly, the rules outline circumstances where we are likely to reinstate. These changes apply to both services (IPS) complaints and handling complaints.
Another significant change relates to who can make a handling complaint. For the first time complainers and practitioners will be able to complain about how a professional body has dealt with a conduct complaint. This is not an alternative to appealing a decision, but allows practitioners the opportunity to express concerns about how the conduct complaint against them has been handled by the professional body. This change will apply to conduct complaints received by the SLCC on or after 1 January 2015.
One further major change is the creation of an independent legal consumer advisory panel whose remit will include:
- making recommendations to the SLCC for improvements to its policies and procedures;
- making suggestions to the SLCC of potential research topics; and
- expressing views, on the request of the SLCC, on matters relevant to the Commission’s functions.
As indicated above, a number of the Act changes have required amendments to the SLCC’s rules. We took this opportunity to carry out a more comprehensive review of the rules and detailed a number of proposals in a public consultation which closed on 17 November.
Some of the areas covered by the rules changes are in relation to:
- oral hearings;
- handling complaints; and
- the discontinuation and reinstatement of complaints – both services and handling.
One of the most significant changes which we had proposed was in relation to the time limits for accepting complaints. During the course of the consultation we became aware of potential implications on our time limits which will be imposed by the European Directive on Alternative Dispute Resolution. This will come into force in July 2015. We decided that, rather than change our time limits in January 2015, and then again in June, it would be preferable to wait until June 2015 and, at that point, introduce a comprehensive time limit rule which will meet the requirements of both the SLCC’s proposals and the ADR Directive. We will be consulting again, therefore, on the time limit in the spring of this year.
Further information on the Act changes, and a copy of the new 2015 Rules, together with frequently asked questions, are now available on the SLCC website: www.scottishlegalcomplaints.org.uk
David Buchanan-Cook is head of oversight at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. Oversight is the area of the SLCC responsible for overseeing how the professional bodies deal with conduct complaints; monitoring and reporting trends in complaints; and producing guidance and best practice notes on complaint handling