Third Party Complaints
You can make a complaint to the SLCC about a practitioner who did not act for you. An example of this would be making a complaint about a practitioner acting for the purchaser in a property transaction where you are the seller.
When can we investigate a third party complaint?
We can investigate complaints about the service of a legal practitioner or firm who was not acting for you if you appear to have been directly affected by the inadequate professional service provided to the practitioner’s own client. An example of this would be making a complaint about a practitioner acting for the purchaser in a property transaction where you are the seller.
Anyone can make a complaint about a practitioner’s conduct.
Duties of practitioners to third parties
Legal practitioners have a duty to act in the interests of their own clients and follow their own client’s instructions. This means that their primary duty of care is to their own client.
Practitioners are entitled to accept what their clients have told them at face value, unless they know that the information is false. There is no obligation on them to check the information provided.
Practitioners are also entitled to act upon the information and instructions given to them by their clients. This includes drafting and issuing court documents and letters.
Although practitioners don’t have a general duty to correspond directly with third parties, they should always respond to complaints. However, they still have to maintain their client’s confidentiality. Even if all the practitioner can say is that they are unable to provide a full response because they do not have their client’s permission to do so, some kind of response is required from them. The practitioner should also be signposting the complainer to the SLCC, if the complaint remains unresolved.
How we deal with third party complaints
If we think that a complaint you have made about a practitioner’s conduct needs investigated further, we will pass it to the relevant professional body.
For complaints about a practitioner’s service, we will first consider whether you appear to have been directly affected by the alleged inadequate professional service. If you do not appear to have been directly affected, we will be unable to consider your complaint any further.
If we do think that you may have been directly affected, we can start to investigate. We will consider whether there was any inadequate professional service to the practitioner’s own client. If we think the service to the practitioner’s own client was inadequate, will we then consider to what extent this directly affected you (as a third party). If there is no evidence of inadequate professional service to the practitioner’s own client, we cannot consider the direct affect aspect any further.
The SLCC always has to respect the confidentiality between the practitioner and their client. That means that we will not be able to disclose confidential information to you unless the practitioner’s client gives their consent. This includes information about the instructions that the client has given to the practitioner and the advice they received from them. It is therefore quite likely that, as a third party, you will receive a limited amount of information about the investigation into your complaint and the evidence which we used to investigate it.
Third party complaint examples
The complaint: I am a beneficiary in an estate. The firm of solicitors winding up the estate have stopped replying to my letters.
What we will consider: You are not a client of the firm. The firm's duty is to their own client, being the executor. If their own client has told them not to respond, they must follow these instructions. The SLCC will consider whether the firm received your correspondence, whether they took their client's instructions on it and whether they followed any such instructions. The SLCC will only consider whether you have been directly affected if we find that the firm has provided their own client with an inadequate professional service.
The complaint: The solicitor acting for my wife in respect of our divorce has delayed in responding to correspondence from my solicitor.
What we will consider: You are not a client of the solicitor. The solicitor's duty is to their own client, being your wife. The SLCC will consider whether the solicitor received your solicitor's correspondence and whether there was an undue delay in responding. The SLCC will investigate whether the solicitor sought instructions from their client, when these were received and what these were. The SLCC will only consider whether you have been directly affected if we find that the firm has provided their own client with an inadequate professional service.
The complaint: I received a letter from a solicitor accusing me of failing to pay a debt owed to their client. This money was not, in fact, due.
What we will consider: You are not a client of the solicitor. The solicitor's duty is to their own client. If their client had advised them a debt is due, they are entitled to accept this at face value. The SLCC will consider whether, in writing the letter, the solicitor was acting on their client's instructions and in line with information provided to them by their client.
If you would like further information or have any queries, please get in touch.
The complaint: I’m unhappy with the Child Welfare Report that was presented to the Sheriff by a solicitor.
What we will consider: Neither party is a client of the solicitor. Although the Child Welfare Reporter may be a solicitor, they have been appointed by the court so there is no direct client/solicitor relationship between the reporter and any of the case parties. That means there is no service aspect to consider. However, we might still be able to consider how the solicitor conducted themselves while performing that role, whether they complied with the directions from the court, considered all the evidence and presented a fair conclusion. Only if the SLCC decides that the complaint might have merit will we pass the complaint on for investigation by the relevant professional body.
The complaint: I was shocked by a post that I saw on social media, by someone describing themself as a lawyer. They made jokes about something that could have been really hurtful to very many people, and might not even have been correct.
What we will consider: Any person – even one not involved in any way with the lawyer or their client – can make a complaint about an individual legal practitioner’s conduct. The regulatory rules require practitioners to be honest and refrain from behaving in a way that could reflect badly on their profession. If eligible, we would refer a complaint like this to the relevant professional organisation for investigation.