Shorter complaint journey times and the absence of backlogs, in contrast to many comparator organisations, are tangible results from our process improvement work and lower incoming complaint numbers. At the end of last year, we reduced the levy for all lawyers, passing on the benefit of those gains to Scotland’s legal sector.
Sharing that positive message about our performance increases consumer confidence in the sector and its regulation. It also reassures any legal professionals who are subject to a complaint that it will be dealt with promptly and fairly.
We welcome comment and dialogue. It’s sometimes hard to change longstanding perceptions, but I invite you to read our annual accounts and annual report, and form your own view of our current performance.
There are two other areas I want to comment on – one strategic and forward looking, one unnecessary and frustrating.
The first is the prospect of reform, based on the outcome of the independent review commissioned by the Scottish Government and which reported three years ago. We are pleased that a consultation is now live on these proposals, and we look forward to engaging in the work to deliver this much needed reform. On a daily basis we see how our current prescriptive legislation adds complexity and leads to poorer outcomes for the public and the profession.
We will continue to press for a single, streamlined, process focussed on the better regulation and consumer principles. A process designed with an understanding of the journey through the system for lawyers and consumers, and with proportionate and robust outcomes that encourage quality improvement.
The less positive message is one we have raised in previous years. Every year, 30% to 40% of requests for client files are ignored by solicitors, despite the SLCC having legal powers to access these. Years of polite reminders and supportive discussions with firms have had little effect, and we were already planning to move to strong enforcement through the courts. That was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, we noticed during the lockdown period that, despite the fact we’d issued a regulatory forbearance statement, many firms still found ways to comply on time. Our thanks go to those firms. Other firms have continued to ignore their statutory duty. Because of that we have now activated our plan to take any solicitors who fail to comply to court. This will be done for a set period, and we will monitor the impact. I hope by next year to be able to report an improved picture in terms of solicitors complying with the law as set out in our governing Act.
My thanks go to the whole Board for their work this year, especially around recalibrating our strategy and plans to deal with Covid-19 and to seize opportunities from our learning during lockdown. We especially thank our demitting members – Amanda Pringle, Emma Hutton and Michelle Hynd.
I must close with thanks to the management and staff team. They have been unrelentingly focussed on the delivery of our service, and unfailingly willing to support change. I am confident that will continue into the year ahead.