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Complaints Act makes things too complicated: Commission heads

30 April 2012

The complaints system entrusted to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is not user friendly and could have been "hugely simpler", according to the Commission's chair, Jane Irvine.

Interviewed in today's Scotsman newspaper along with outgoing chief executive Rosemary Agnew, Ms Irvine said it was difficult to follow all te statutory processes cheaply and correctly and make sure the complaint remained confidential.

Ms Agnew said the Commission "could do things much more efficiently if we had more freedom within the legislation that governs us". She added that the statutory language irritated and upset people by requiring the Commission to apply the tests of "frivolous, vexatious or totally without merit" in deciding not to accept a complaint for investigation.

Both women believes there are positives in the Act, the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, because it offers the chance to use mediation and it "empowers the legal profession", but say the question cannot be answered whether we are in a better position than before the Commission was set up, "because there is no comparator".

Complaints of inadequate professional service were formerly handled by the professional bodies, the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates, and they continue to investigate cases of alleged professional misconduct – which the Commission also believes makes things more complicated.

On relations with the Law Society of Scotland, Ms Agnew said: "Relations are cordial but we are all constrained by the Act. If we didn't test each other" – such as by the Society challenging the Commission's proposed budget, and the Commission checking the Society's complaints handling processes – "it would not be a healthy relationship."

However they express pride in the thoroughness of their investigation processes.

Ms Agnew takes up office as Information Commissioner for Scotland tomorrow, 1 May.

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