Reforms should benefit consumers and lawyers alike - Vicky Crichton

On 20 April the Scottish Government laid the Regulation of Legal Services (Scotland) Bill in Parliament. It’s fairly technical, but its provisions go right to the heart of how we make sure that regulation works for the public, consumers and legal services providers.

Legal services are regulated because of their vital importance in supporting the rule of law and access to justice. That places higher regulatory burdens on them to ensure they meet required standards, but also delivers privileges in terms of market access.

The Bill makes some significant changes to how this happens, but two of the most important issues for the public are how complaints are dealt with and how they’re used as a tool for improvement.

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Making complaints is the main way most of us will come into contact with regulatory systems. If we’ve experienced poor service or witnessed poor conduct by a regulated professional or service, we want to know our concerns will be dealt with efficiently and effectively. We’ll expect that we might be awarded redress for any harm caused or that disciplinary action might be taken if warranted.

Vicky Crichton is Director of Public Policy, Scottish Legal Complaints CommissionVicky Crichton is Director of Public Policy, Scottish Legal Complaints Commission
Vicky Crichton is Director of Public Policy, Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

A significant portion of this Bill aims to take the current complaints system, which can be cumbersome and slow, and make it work more effectively. That should benefit everyone, meaning consumers get a swift response to complaints and lawyers won’t have complaints hanging over them. It should also help to improve efficiency, vitally important for the profession who fund the system.

That’s an outcome we’ve called for and are pleased to see being progressed. Over the last 15 years the SLCC has dealt with around 15,000 complaints about legal services. We’ve spoken to thousands of lawyers and heard the challenges they face.

Every day we hear from people about the impact on their lives when legal transactions go wrong. We know the current complaints system isn’t efficient or responsive enough, and we want to change that.

Of course, complaints can only deal with problems after the fact, once the harm’s been done. Which is why the focus on standards, prevention and improvement is equally welcome.

We need to take all the learning from complaints and regulatory issues and make sure that’s shared, understood and feeds into quality improvement. That’s what will make the difference in preventing future harm or detriment.

Often consumers will tell us they’re raising a complaint to avoid the same thing happening in future. That only works if we all see complaints as a tool for feedback and learning. We draw out trends and emerging issues from the complaints we see to inform our guidance and the training we offer to the legal profession. The provisions in this Bill would help us to build on this work to help drive and embed a culture of improvement.

The consultation for this Bill showed consumer bodies and the public tended to favour more fundamental reform than is now proposed, while legal bodies tended to support more limited change. The Government made clear it was seeking a compromise between these views.

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With those compromises made, however, we remain confident the proposals can still deliver improvement in the system.

We know there will be much debate about the various provisions in the Bill, but any erosion of the core vision of a more streamlined, efficient and effective system would see everyone lose out. We’re looking forward to making the case for much needed reform that we believe would benefit consumers and lawyers alike.

Vicky Crichton is Director of Public Policy, Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

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