The Inner House of the Court of Session has ordered a contempt of court hearing in relation to a solicitor’s behaviour during court processes while the SLCC was seeking to recover files.
The case relates to a firm of solicitors consistently failing to deliver relevant files and documents to the SLCC over a number of months. The SLCC requires access to the files so that a complaint made by a client of the firm can be investigated.
Following a previous hearing where the firm’s sole practitioner failed to attend despite being ordered to do so, the practitioner appeared at a hearing on 1 December 2021 and produced the file. However, the court has now ordered a contempt of court hearing in relation to the solicitor’s behaviour.
The SLCC raised the action following an ongoing concern over a number of years at lack of cooperation from a significant number of solicitor firms in Scotland in dealing with complaints. This amounts to a widespread failure to meet statutory duties under the complaints legislation.
Neil Stevenson, Chief Executive, said, “The SLCC has now received the file in this case, which was bought to court for the hearing. While this represents progress in this case, we have another action pending against this same firm in relation to another client complaint. To many it will seem staggering we have to go back to the beginning of the court process for each individual file.
“We also have a number of cases against other firms underway. Those solicitors should be advised that contempt of court is a real possibility as an outcome if they fail to produce documents when ordered to do so.
“While we have been awarded costs in this case, the time and money spent by the SLCC in pursuing solicitors for files which they have a statutory duty to provide, is a significant cost in the regulatory system, and one which is passed on to the whole profession via our levy.
“In addition, cases like this raise a real concern that the current regulatory model appears unable to look at issues in the round, and is failing in terms of public protection. There are no regulatory powers to intervene, and due to rules prohibiting publicity, we have no powers to alert consumers considering using this firm that some current clients are already facing a total lack of engagement on concerns they have raised.
“As we suspect is the case in many of these situations, the court heard of a litany of problems this firm appeared to be facing, and a description of failing repeatedly described by the solicitor’s own counsel as ‘woeful’. Failing to respond to a statutory request like this may often be indicative of wider issues in a firm, and should raise alarm bells. While our aim in these cases is to secure access to the file we need to consider a complaint, we are also concerned that these warning signs often go unheeded.
“It may indicate a firm either in need of help and support, or in need of regulatory action to protect the public, but it is not clear that the regulatory powers or will exist for this information to be identified or acted upon.
“We will continue to pursue firms to the limits of the legislation for failure to respond, whilst thanking those that do try to make the system work and respond timeously.”