What we do
The SLCC acts as a gateway and point of contact for all complaints against legal practitioners in Scotland. Legal practitioners include qualified conveyancers, solicitors, advocates and commercial attorneys.
The SLCC receives complaints about the service received from a legal practitioner, and decides whether to investigate those complaints. The Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 encourages practices and practitioners to resolve the grievance themselves. Where this is not possible we aim to provide an easily accessible and effective dispute investigation and resolution service. The Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates, Association of Commercial Attorneys still deals with matters of professional misconduct or unsatisfactory conduct and the SLCC oversees how these complaints are investigated and prosecuted. We have an important role in influencing the conduct processes, including the powers to audit and recommend changes.
The SLCC aims to be of service to both the public and the profession. We have an additional responsibility to share best practice, monitor trends, and highlight areas of concern. We are committed to the use of mediation to resolve disputes between practitioners and their clients. In the right circumstances, mediation should prove to be a quick and successful method of resolving complaints.
The SLCC operates independently of the Scottish Government, Scottish Legal Profession, the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates and Association of Commercial Attorneys. We appreciate our position of independence is valued by our service users by providing a greater sense of impartiality and objectivity to reviewing complaints.
The SLCC is under no obligation to investigate a complaint, or an aspect of a complaint, that it thinks is "frivolous, vexatious or without merit". We will look at a complaint and determine whether it is suitable, which aspects of it are investigated, and how that investigation is conducted. The process by which an investigation is conducted is inquisitorial rather than adversarial.
Where the SLCC does consider a complaint to be appropriate, we need to have taken into account factors such as whether the service provider addressed the complaint properly at source or whether a suitable negotiation was considered between the parties. In doing this we can listen to both the person making the complaint and the legal practitioner, examine certain documents or demand explanations in connection with the complaint, and reach an outcome we consider fair and reasonable. This means we must take account the relevant law (including levels of damages awarded by courts in similar circumstances) and relevant codes of practice, professional rules, standards and guidance.
Where a complaint is either upheld or not upheld, the SLCC must inform the parties of its decision in writing and we can also publish a report of the investigation. The Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 specifies that an appeal can be made to court against any decision made by the SLCC. The Act sets out various conditions for an appeal, including that it must be made within 28 days of the SLCC's decision.
The SLCC cannot directly investigate a complaint about the conduct of a legal practice or practitioner. If we evaluate a complaint and decide it is an issue about conduct, rather than about a service provided, then it must pass the complaint on to the relevant professional organisation. However, we have the power to investigate the way a conduct complaint was handled by the relevant professional organisation. This is known as a handling complaint. If we choose to do so, the SLCC can produce a report including certain recommendations relating to the way the complaint was dealt with. The professional organisation then has a period of three months in which to notify the SLCC, the practitioner concerned, and the person who made the handling complaint of any actions it has taken to comply with the recommendations. If no action has been taken, it must specify why not, and can actually be required to take action by the SLCC.
The SLCC has the power to answer the service complaint by awarding the complainer up to £20,000 for any loss, inconvenience or distress resulting from inadequate professional service. We can also require the relevant legal practices and practitioners to reduce fees, re-do work and rectify any mistakes at their own expense. If we feel the practitioner shows a lack of competence relating to any area of the law or legal practice, we can report the matter to the relevant professional organisation.
The SLCC cannot investigate complaints relating to the conduct of legal practitioners. Any complaints it receives and determines to be about conduct will be handed to the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates or Association of Commercial Attorneys. We will still have the power to oversee how these complaints are dealt with. The Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (comprised in future of an equal number of solicitor and non-lawyer members) and The Faculty of Advocates will continue to hear complaints relating to professional misconduct. Further details are available on the websites of the Law Society of Scotland, The Faculty of Advocates, and the Association of Commercial Attorneys as to how they deal with conduct complaints.
There are rare occasions when complainers pursue their complaints in a way that can impede their investigation or have significant impact on the SLCC.
The Unacceptable Actions Policy sets out our approach to the relatively few occasions when we consider people's actions or behaviour to be unacceptable.