Warning on 'costly' legal complaints body

A LEADING political expert has warned ministers that creating an independent body to handle complaints against solicitors could prove a costly "hammer to crack a nut".

A report written by Professor David McCrone, the co-director of Edinburgh University's Institute of Governance, also claims that the Legal Profession and Legal Aid Bill is based on a "quick and dirty" consultation exercise.

The society is calling on the Scottish Parliament's Justice 2 Committee to correct flaws in the bill, which includes proposals to set up the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), when it begins taking oral evidence today.

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Prof McCrone's report, which was commissioned by the society, says: "The political system should be very careful of landing the profession and their clients with an over-elaborate and costly system, something of a 'hammer to crack a nut'."

He concludes: "There seems to be a serious lack of articulation between the system of regulating the legal profession in Scotland and how it is paid for."

The society has already argued that the bill lacks detail on how the SLCC, which the Executive estimates will have annual running costs of 2.4 million, will be funded and what levies will be imposed on solicitors.

It also has doubts over the estimates given for recruitment and training, property, IT, publicity, National Insurance and pension contributions.

Prof McCrone also claims the Executive's consultation contained "elementary howlers".

He says the figure claiming that 81 per cent of people who support ministers' favoured option for reform was only based on those who answered that specific question and could also have been described as only 25 per cent of all respondents.

The society has already warned that the costs of the new body - and compensation penalties of up to 20,000 facing lawyers found guilty of poor service - could create a "legal desert" in towns across the country, with small firms being forced out of business.

Douglas Mill, the society's chief executive, said: "The costs lack specification and foundation and they are likely to impact markedly on the high street of Scotland - the very area of 'people law' which is under most financial pressure."

A Scottish Executive spokeswoman said the new body's budget would be discussed with the legal profession each year, and she added that cost estimates had been "carefully prepared".