News In Focus
Court wins show we test complaints properly, SLCC argues
Recent court decisions upholding the rejection of complaints against practising lawyers show that the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission operates properly an an independent body under the relevant legislation, the SLCC is claiming.
Last month the Court of Session refused leave to appeal to complainers seeking to overturn the SLCC's rejection of three complaints, raised by two different individuals.
In the first case, the complainer sought leave to appeal against the rejection of both issues of his complaint against an advocate as totally without merit. This was refused by the court on the basis that no ground of appeal with any prospect of success had been made out.
In the other two cases, which related to two linked complaints against different firms of solicitors, the complainer sought to challenge the SLCC's determination that the complaints had been made outside of its time limits, and there were no exceptional circumstances, or public interest reasons, to exercise its discretion in accepting them late.
It was argued before the court that this decision amounted to an error in law, procedural impropriety, was irrational and was not supported by the facts the SLCC had found established.
The court said it had to be satisfied there was a real or realistic prospect of success of the appeal or some other compelling reason for it to allow an appeal to proceed. The court was bound by the SLCC's findings of fact unless these were tainted, for example by impropriety such as bias having been demonstrated. No argument had been made on that basis, and there were no arguable grounds on the basis of error in law, or for any finding that the SLCC’s decision was irrational.
It was also not persuaded by arguments that the SLCC’s complaints process was not compliant with the general law, in particular the European Convention of Human Rights. It refused leave to appeal and awarded expenses to the SLCC.
SLCC chief executive Neil Stevenson commented: “As the gateway for complaints about lawyers in Scotland, we often receive complaints from complainers who have found themselves in distressing and difficult situations (often arising out of previous litigation which has gone against them). However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they have a valid complaint under the relevant legislation and rules. Our duties under the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 are very clear and when there is no case to investigate we make a clear decision that this is the case and communicate this to all parties. These three cases highlight we are as robust in defending decisions that a lawyer has no case to answer, as we are in defending decisions against a lawyer or firm; that is our role as the independent complaints body.”