In December 2016, the SLCC was successful in defending three ‘leave to appeal’ cases in the Inner House of the Court Session. The cases related to three complaints made to the SLCC, raised by two different complainers.
In the first case, the complainer sought leave to appeal against the SLCC’s decision to reject both issues of his complaint against an advocate as totally without merit.
Leave to appeal 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 were heard at a single hearing, the complainer wished to appeal the SLCC’s decision on two separate linked complaints, each covering a different firm. The SLCC had determined 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.
In these cases, the complainers sought to appeal these decisions and argued before the court that the decision of the SLCC not to accept the complaints as eligible for investigation amounted to an error in law, procedural impropriety, was irrational and was not supported by the facts it had found established.
Applying the relevant legal test, the court said that it must be satisfied there is a real or realistic prospect of success of the appeal or some other compelling reason for the court to allow an appeal to proceed. The court is bound by the findings of fact made by the SLCC except if these were tainted, for example by impropriety such as bias having been demonstrated. The court’s view was that no such argument had been made on that basis, there were no arguable grounds on the basis of error in law, nor were there grounds for any finding that the SLCC’s decision was irrational. The court accepted the findings of fact the SLCC had made. The court was not persuaded by arguments made by the complainer that the SLCC’s complaints process is not compliant with the general law, in particular the European Convention of Human Rights, refused leave to appeal and awarded expenses to the SLCC.
SLCC Chief Executive Neil Stevenson commented on the cases, “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.”