Inflexible legislation makes it hard to deal with complaints fairly and fast – Mark Paxton

Mark Paxton is Interim Director of Public Policy, Scottish Legal Complaints Commission
Mark Paxton is Interim Director of Public Policy, Scottish Legal Complaints Commission
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The system for dealing with complaints may not be perfect, but we are trying to improve, says Mark Paxton

We know from feedback received from all parties involved in our complaints process that the two main concerns are having the complaint dealt with fairly – and quickly.

We have always been confident that the level of scrutiny given to complaints about legal practitioners and firms means that we operate a fair process. In the face of rising complaints numbers over the last three years though, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has been wrestling with the problem of how to also ensure we deal with complaints as quickly as possible.

One problem we face is that our governing legislation ensures a rigid process which is overly complex, requires complaints to go through several legal tests and results in lengthy journey times for those involved. Our answer to this has been to apply an agile approach and try to bring innovation and flexibility to an otherwise inflexible system.

Over the last year, we have undertaken 37 individual mini projects, targeting every aspect of our complaints process and involving more than 90 per cent of our staff.

The vision at the outset was to maintain the quality and fairness in our process, whilst greatly reducing the amount of ongoing complaints in the system and consequently the journey time experienced by those involved.

One of the key successes so far has been in being able to better apply one of the key principles of better regulation; proportionality. This has led to us ensuring that where there is a prospect of resolving a complaint without the need for a formal determination, this can be achieved more quickly. It has led to us issuing determinations on whether complaints should be investigated further which are easier to understand, and has allowed complaints which have no merit to be closed quickly, while complaints which do require further scrutiny are moved on for investigation more quickly as well.

All complaints are equally important, but no two are the same. Ensuring that we apply the appropriate tools depending on the circumstances of the particular case has resulted in swifter consideration of complaints for all involved.

In a modern world that is increasingly measured in raw statistics though, the big question we have to answer is: has all of this resulted in tangible improvements? We’re confident that it has. In the last year we have reduced the average time taken to process a complaint (the “journey time”) by 38 per cent and the number of ongoing complaints in our system by 27 per cent. While we have increased staff numbers in the same period, the reduction in the amount of money spent per complaint concluded (a 12 per cent reduction); reassures us that process changes are a key driver of these improvements.

It has been a hugely positive experience so far, but we are well aware that challenges remain. Complaints still take longer to process than we would like. And for practitioners and clients involved it is undoubtedly still a stressful process which is overly complex and takes too long.

Over the next year we will continue to strive to balance fairness with speed in our process while exploring innovative solutions to react with agility within a largely inflexible process. Is the system perfect? A long way from it. Is it improving? Absolutely.

Mark Paxton is Interim Director of Public Policy, Scottish Legal Complaints Commission