The complaints process if you're complained about
The information on this page is for lawyers who have had a complaint made against them. There is information elsewhere on our website on the complaints process if you are making a complaint.
A chance to resolve the complaint before the SLCC investigates
Under the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, there is a requirement for the legal professional complained about, or their firm, to be given a reasonable opportunity to deal with the complaint in the first instance (currently set at 28 days). So if the complaint has not come to you or your firm, we’ll advise the complainer to contact you and we’ll let you know about the complaint. This is your opportunity to resolve the complaint yourself.
If you are concerned for your own or your team’s safety in relation to a complaint, please tell us so we can consider any action we can take in dealing with the complaint.
Our statutory guidance can help you to develop and implement an effective complaints policy. Where this fails to resolve the issues, the complainer can contact the SLCC so we can begin our complaints process.
When a complaint is made to us
The SLCC is the gateway for all legal complaints about a legal professional’s conduct or the service they or their firm have provided. When we receive a complaint, we will share it with you and offer you the opportunity to send us any comments or response to the complaint.
We assess whether complaints are eligible for investigation in terms of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007. That includes whether the complaint has been made within the time limits, and whether it meets the test of not being frivolous, vexatious or totally without merit. Following court guidance, this threshold for this test is set low.
We also decide which issues of complaint are about your conduct and which are about your or your firm’s service. Service complaints are investigated by us, and we pass any conduct issues to the relevant professional body for investigation.
At this stage, we make limited enquiries to ensure that we have enough information to allow us to decide if there are issues we should investigate, but you can share any information you believe would assist us.
A decision that issues of complaint are eligible for investigation means that we think there is something we, or your professional body, are going to have to explore more fully.
Throughout the whole process, we will look for opportunities to resolve the complaint. Resolving a complaint early often results in more satisfactory outcomes for both parties. In appropriate cases, we may offer formal mediation, which has a high success rate.
We will contact you and ask you to provide the relevant files and your response to the complaint within a statutory deadline. We will use these as part of our investigation, but information from the files is not copied or kept.
We take all complaints seriously and make careful enquiries as we investigate. This can be a lengthy process but throughout, we continue to look for opportunities for the complaint to be resolved. Where this isn't possible, the case investigator will write to you and the complainer detailing their recommendations and any proposed settlement. If both parties accept these, or agree alternative proposals, then the complaint is resolved.
If no resolution is agreed, then the complaint is referred to a Determination Committee consisting of one legal member and two lay members. The Determination Committee considers the complaint afresh and is not bound by any earlier attempts at resolution but makes its own decision about appropriate outcomes and redress.
A Determination is the end of the SLCC’s complaints process and the Committee’s decision is final, binding and enforceable. It can only be challenged through appeal to the Court of Session.
If we uphold a complaint against you, we may:
- require you to reduce or refund fees
- require you to re-do work and rectify any mistakes
- award the complainer up to £20,000
- impose a complaint levy
- report the matter to your professional body.
Compliance with our decisions
If a complaint has been upheld, or you have agreed to a settlement, you should provide us with a thorough explanation of the action you have taken to implement the decision with written evidence, wherever possible, e.g. a copy of the letter paying compensation, an amended fee note and confirmation of fee refund.
Where practitioners fail or delay in complying (in full or part) with a decision within the timescales we specified we will report this to the relevant professional body and may proceed to seek enforcement of the decision. The professional body may decide to raise a conduct complaint against the individual who has failed to comply.
The complaints levy
Where a Determination Committee upholds or partly upholds a complaint, we may charge a complaints levy, in line with our policy. Our legislation makes clear that firms who have complaints upheld against them should be paying an additional contribution to the cost of the complaints system. The full cost would otherwise be split across the whole profession through the general levy and there was a concern that some firms with poor complaints records could become a disproportionate burden on the profession as a whole.
When assessing the amount of the complaints levy to impose, the committee may take into account any attempts to respond to or resolve the complaint, offers of settlement, and how the complaint has been managed during the course of the SLCC’s investigation.