David Buchanan-Cook: New model must be fit for future of legal regulation in Scotland

David Buchanan-Cook is Head of Oversight at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission
David Buchanan-Cook is Head of Oversight at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission
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October 2008 seems a long time ago, doesn’t it?

The country was in the early depressing spiral of recession, following the devastating collapse of the USA housing market. In that month in particular, OJ Simpson was found guilty of kidnapping and armed robbery; the Large Hadron Collider was officially inaugurated; the last Indiana Jones film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Beyonce’s Single Ladies, were both released.

Was that really ten years ago? In some ways at least some of those events seem much more recent.

Into this world, and on this month ten years ago, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) opened its doors to receive its first complaints.

Over those ten years we have dealt with over 12,000 complaints, and we have awarded more than £2 million in compensation and fee rebates to complainers across Scotland who have received a poor legal service.

Those ten years have also given us a pretty good handle on what issues tend to drive complaints.

It’s not lawyers making mistakes or getting the law wrong. Most of the complaints we receive are about things that should be easily corrected or even avoided, the vast majority arising from communication-related issues.

However, in the face of criticism from complainers and lawyers alike about the delays in our process, how would we assess our performance over those ten years?

Emmert Wolf said that a man is only as good as his tools. Without wishing to appear defensive, that seems a pretty good summing up of our performance. For a number of years, we have been consistently saying that the system we were given to process complaints – contained in primary legislation, and therefore immobile – was not fit for purpose. Its inherent complexity makes it unfathomable to complainers and lawyers alike. Our new Chair famously described it as “bonkers” – and he’s not wrong.

In most recent years this has become increasingly clear as complaint numbers have risen, and the nature of those complaints has become more complex – a double whammy. The result is a system today which may be keeping afloat, but is loudly creaking at the seams.

So it is with a sense of relief, on our birthday, that we are able to welcome the report issued by Esther Roberton on the future of legal regulation in Scotland.

It is encouraging that, on the anniversary of our birth, we can begin looking towards the potential creation of a new single body. This, we believe, could very well be a viable model for dealing with complaints more efficiently and effectively. We also share the aspirations for a system that is modern and agile, and which deals with complaints fairly and proportionately.

As far as the SLCC as a body is concerned, it does rather suggest that the number of “happy returns” in its current incarnation may be limited. However, the recommendations in Ms Roberton’s report point in a direction of travel which we believe is the correct one. We look forward very much to contributing to those changes which lie ahead.

David Buchanan-Cook is Head of Oversight at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission