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Welcome

Welcome to the latest edition of our CRM newsletter.   Every quarter we bring you the latest information on legal complaints with a view to helping practitioners avoid the most common complaint scenarios. 

Our Determination Committees decided the outcome of 19 complaints in the quarter October to December 2016.  12 of these were either wholly or partially upheld, with the remaining 7 complaints not upheld.  Our 'Learning from complaints' section looks at two of these decisions in more detail.  

You may be aware that this quarter, we consulted on our proposed budget and Operating Plan for 2017-18.  We will be communicating more on the outcome of that process shortly. However, one of the themes which arose from the consultation relates to our process for assessing the eligibility of complaints.  Surely it’s a relatively easy and quick thing to decide whether a complaint is in or out?  Read more on that below in our 'Spotlight on eligibility'.

We also highlight the changes to our time-bar and upcoming CPD events.   

I hope you enjoy our new format and - as always - if you have any suggestions please do let us know. 

Until next time,
David Buchanan-Cook, Head of Oversight
 


Learning from complaints

 

Complaint 16/74 was a third party complaint in relation to a criminal matter – which in itself is unusual. The complainer asserted that they had not been advised by the firm when to attend court as a witness - they had only found out about the date from the defendant.
 
As is often the case, the complaint on investigation was not quite so clear cut. It wasn't clear whether copy citations which were held on the firm’s file had actually been sent. However, what swayed the Determination Committee to uphold the complaint was the date of the citations – one week ahead of the court date.  Noting that the complainer and a further witness were resident abroad, they concluded that whether the citations had been issued or not, insufficient time had been allowed for normal citation. This was considered to be a breach of the service standard relating to Diligence. 

A further example of problems which can occur with witness citations is found in complaint 16/76. This was a civil litigation case where a crucial witness due to give important evidence on the complainer’s behalf failed to attend court. Not because of insufficient prior warning this time, but because the citation quoted the wrong date.

In its defence, the firm stated that it had discussed the possibility of a part-hearing to lead evidence on a different date – but there was nothing on file to support that position. The Determination Committee considered that the client had the not unreasonable expectation that the witness would have been cited correctly and, again, the issue was upheld on the basis of a breach of the Diligence standard. 

Fortunately for all of us, infallibility is not a requirement of legal practice. However, these recent examples do emphasise the importance of paying careful attention to the detail contained within citations – particularly the required appearance date – and to making sure that citations are issued in good time.

See all this quarter's decisions here


Spotlight on Eligibility

 

One of the themes which arose from our budget consultation, and which frequently arises at our CPD events, relates to our process for assessing the eligibility of complaints – surely it’s a relatively easy and quick thing to decide whether a complaint is in or out?

As we have outlined in the current edition of The Journal, the process for assessing whether a complaint is eligible is not at all straightforward. 

It is unusual for a complaints handling body to have its detailed processes contained in an Act of parliament – this makes for a framework which is inflexible and unable to adapt to an ever-changing landscape. Our paper on legislative change discusses the notion that this is not the way in which modern regulation can be most effective or most efficient.

It’s that efficiency element which is most relevant at the moment. There is no denying the fact that the way we have to deal with eligibility decisions at present is time consuming and costly – on average, the process for assessing whether a complaint is in or out now takes longer than the formal investigation of the complaint. That cannot be what was intended when the SLCC was set up. The continuing rise in complaint numbers – whether those transpire to be eligible or not – simply increases the level of resource required.

So what is the solution? The legislative requirements we have to work to constrain the practical efficiencies we can make – although we do constantly look for ways to improve. A more radical overhaul is required, and we will continue to work with the Law Society and others to press for regulatory reform which eradicates current inefficiencies, both in our processes and others.   
 


Changes to timescales

From 1 April, the time limit for making a legal complaint has been extended from 1 year to 3 years.  While this only applies to complaints about new business which commenced on or after that date, all firms are required to change their Terms of Business/ Engagement issued from that date and to make any necessary changes to their internal complaints procedures.  See our website for further information on the change.  
 


News in brief

  • New SLCC Board Member appointments announced Read more
  • SLCC operating plan and budget consultation Read more
  • SLCC Consumer Panel publishes vision for Consumer Principles Read more 
  • Three appeal case successes for SLCC Read more

Events

  • 20 April: Complaints - Best Practice: Scottish Paralegals Conference, Glasgow
  • 21 April: Training for Trainees workshop, Glasgow Bar Association

Guides

Did you know that we produce best practice guidance specifically aimed at helping lawyers to understand and avoid the most common complaint scenarios? 

To download our guides including 'Preventing Complaints' and 'Best Practice in Complaint Handling', visit our website.  

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Scottish Legal Complaints Commission · The Stamp Office · 10-14 Waterloo Place · Edinburgh, EH1 3EG · United Kingdom