The Court of Session has granted an interlocutor requiring a firm of solicitors to deliver relevant files and documents to the SLCC, so that a complaint made by a client of the firm can be investigated.
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. It is the first time the SLCC has resorted to litigation against a law firm.
While the SLCC did make allowances for difficulties caused during lockdown, this issue pre-dates that period, and the level of non-compliance with this statutory duty has remained broadly constant.
Neil Stevenson, Chief Executive commented. “The SLCC deal with over 1000 incoming complaints per year. This is a small number of complaints compared with the overall number of transactions where a solicitor helps a client each year”.
However, in around 40% of cases at the SLCC over the last few years the solicitors complained about have failed to respond to the SLCC as required under the statute. This causes additional delays and worry for clients in hundreds of cases per year, and calls into serious question the behaviours and ethics of a section of the profession.”
“It also causes entirely unnecessary expense, running into tens of thousands of pounds, which is borne by other law firms who fund the complaints process, and it impacts the reputation of the whole profession.”
“For several years we have flagged this issue in our annual reports and to key stakeholders, such as the Law Society of Scotland. We had hoped communication, engagement and education would lead to improved compliance.”
“Litigation has been a last resort, because it increases expense ever further. However, as we have not seen any discernible improvement, we’ve now made the decision that all solicitors failing to comply with the statute will be taken to court. This increases costs further in the short term, but we hope sends a strong signal that compliance with the law is not optional for lawyers.”
“We have instructed counsel in two further cases, seeking to build a body of case law and test the courts willingness to award expenses against these law firms. We are also considering naming law firms that fail to comply”.
“I’d of course also take this opportunity to thank the 60% of law firms that do respond timeously and helpfully. Complaints can happen to any firm, and we know it can be stressful for those complained about. There are excellent examples of client care and complaint handling in the sector, and it is deeply unfortunate that some firms are letting their colleagues down by failing to engage.”