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SLCC must seek efficiency reforms to curb levy rise: Society
The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission should embrace major changes to the way it administers legal complaints, to avoid an above-inflation hike in costs, the Law Society of Scotland said today.
In its formal response to the SLCC's budget proposals for 2018-19, which include a 5.2% rise in its draft budget and a rise of up to 10% in the levy to be paid by solicitors (following a 12.5% rise in 2017), the Society calls on the SLCC to work with it on ways in which the system can be made more efficient sooner rather than later.
It further believes that the figures from the SLCC’s most recent annual report do not support the proposed increase. The total number of complaints requiring an SLCC investigation (either as service only complaints or as hybrid) fell from 336 to 276 in 2016-17, and of those progressing to a full investigation, only 95 got to a determination stage, down from 102 the previous year.
And its response argues that the legal dispute between the two bodies last year over the SLCC's powers would have been resolved more cheaply had the SLCC agreed to present a joint special case to the Court of Session, rather than have the Society go down the statutory appeals route.
As for the suggestion that a different apportionment among categories of lawyers could be made, the Society observes that any scenario will result in an above-inflation increase for a substantial part of the profession. It continues: "Rather than seeking views in a way which will inevitably and understandably see different parts of the profession argue for a reduced impact on their own specific area, we believe it is the overall increase which must be resisted. Rather than deciding which solicitors in which part of the profession should be forced to bear the brunt of the proposed rise, we believe we are now at a critical point where no solicitor, irrespective of where they work and what they practice, should be forced to finance another above inflation increase in SLCC spending."
The Society also challenges the proposed £20,000 charge on it as an approved regulator under the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010, when it is not yet authorised to act as such and there are as yet no entities to regulate or regulation system to operate.
Society President Graham Matthews commented: "People rightly ask why the SLCC is increasing its budget when eligible complaints for them to investigate are falling.
"Legal firms are showing real innovation in order to reduce costs and minimise client fees. In the public sector, pressure on funding is forcing organisations and agencies to think and act differently. The SLCC needs to embrace this kind of approach, to look afresh at how it operates and embrace some radical thinking to improve efficiency and cut costs. If it does then the SLCC can avoid imposing an above-inflation rise in costs on solicitors and their clients."
He added: "Longer term, we are keen to work with the SLCC to streamline the complaints process through changes to regulations. Working together, we can make the whole system quicker, more efficient and deliver better outcomes for the public and the profession.
"We hope the SLCC board will act as a result of feedback received. It is important that we have an effective complaints system that works well for both the consumer and the profession. Both organisations are engaging with the ongoing independent review of legal services regulation, which offers the best opportunity to develop a consensus on how we improve the legal complaints system in Scotland."
Click here to view the full response.