Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a list of frequently asked questions about the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission; how complaints are handled; and what you can do if you are not satisfied with how your complaint has been handled.

Complaints

The following FAQs relate to the complaints handling process, how to complain and what to do when your complaint has reached its conclusion.

General

General FAQs about the SLCC.


Is there anything I need to do before I submit a service/conduct complaint to the SLCC?

Yes. For service/conduct complaints, there is a requirement to have made the substance of your complaint known to the practitioner or the firm, allowing them a reasonable opportunity (usually 4 weeks) to resolve the complaint first. More information on how to do this available in our advice and information pages.  It is always helpful to keep copies of any letters of complaint and any responses you may have received from the practitioner/firm and submit these with your complaint form.

What do I need to provide to make a complaint?

Initially, the SLCC requires a signed complaint form from you.  There are two forms

  • one for service/conduct complaints and
  • one for 'handling' complaints

It is also very helpful to provide us with a copy of any letter of complaint and response from the practitioner or firm. If you require any assistance in completing a complaint form, or have any questions about the form, please contact us on 0131 201 2130.

What is the difference between a service and conduct complaint?

Service Complaints  are about the quality of work which a practitioner has carried out (or which you think should have been carried out) during a transaction.

Conduct Complaints are about a particular practitioner's behaviour.

Some complaints can contain elements of both service and conduct.

What is a handling complaint?

This is about the way the relevant professional organisation has dealt with the investigation of a complaint about a practitioner's conduct. If you are not happy with how the investigation into your complaint has been carried out, you can make a handling complaint to us and you can read more about this here.

What are the time limits for making complaints?

All complaints should be brought as soon as possible; however, there are strict time limits which apply:

Service/Conduct complaints

The SLCC operates strict time limits for accepting complaints, which require complaints to be made within one year of the service ending or the conduct occurring. However, the SLCC will disregard any time it considers that the complainer was excusably unaware of their concerns. If you make a complaint after the one year deadline has passed, it is unlikely that we will be able to consider your complaint unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Handling complaints

Once the professional organisation has made a decision about whether or not the conduct complaint should be upheld, a letter is sent to the parties advising of the decision. Handling complaints must be made within six months of the date of that final decision letter. The complaint cannot be accepted if the six months have expired. There is no exception to this.

If the conduct complaint is still in the process of being investigated by the professional organisation, the SLCC must not carry out a handling investigation unless the professional organisation has unreasonably failed to start to investigate or has started to investigate, but has failed to complete it within a reasonable time.

The legal practitioner I wish to complain about is no longer practising; can I still make a complaint?

Yes.  In some cases there may be difficulties in tracing the files or the practitioner, but each case is investigated on its own merits and we will advise you openly of any difficulties we encounter.

Are there legal service complaints the SLCC does not investigate?

The SLCC does not enquire into complaints made about Judges, Sheriffs, the Scottish Legal Aid Board, the Scottish Courts Service, Scottish Police Service or Scottish Prison Service. There are also certain service complaints about a practitioner acting in a judicial capacity that we are unable to accept for investigation. This is covered by section 2 (3) of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) 2007 Act. An example of this would be where a legal practitioner has been instructed by the Court to prepare a report or opinion, such as a Children's Reporter.

If we cannot deal with your complaint we will provide you with the reasons for our decision. Where possible, we will also try and direct you to the relevant organisation where you should make your complaint.

What happens after I make a Conduct or Service complaint to the SLCC?

You will be advised in writing whether the SLCC can look at your complaint and what the next step is. We aim to contact you within 10 working days of receiving your complaint form to agree a summary of the main issues of your complaint. The SLCC is keen to resolve complaints promptly and hopes that local resolution and mediation can be used. If your complaint is purely about the service received from a legal practitioner, the Mediation Manager will contact both parties to see if they would like to try this approach. If Mediation is not appropriate, your complaint will be passed to one of our Complaint Investigators who will carry out an investigation of your complaint.

We will always advise you on the progress of your complaint at appropriate points, and when we make a final decision which is called a determination.

What happens if mediation is unsuccessful in resolving service complaints?

Where initial steps to resolve complaints have not been successful, the complaint is investigated by a Case Investigator who contacts both parties, makes relevant enquiries and analyses the evidence relating to the complaint. At the conclusion of the investigation, the investigator produces an investigation report. The investigation report will include a proposed settlement. If both parties accept the proposal, the complaint will be concluded at that stage. 

How long will it take to resolve my complaint?

As an independent and impartial body, we have to investigate complaints very thoroughly, taking time to gather evidence and ensure that each case receives the consideration which it deserves. We are committed to working through cases as quickly as we can, but legal complaints are often extremely complicated and demand close and diligent investigation, especially since questions of redress and professional reputation are involved.

How long your complaint takes can vary.

Where a complaint is not resolved earlier in the process and goes through to determination, it can take up to 16 months, although some complaints may take more or less time. An example of this is set out in the table below.

We strongly encourage parties to try to reach a resolution as soon as possible, without the need for a formal decision. Although we understand that is not always possible you will see that this is something that is offered and encouraged at every stage of our process.

Please remember that conduct complaints are considered by the relevant professional organisations (RPOs). RPOs have their own processes and set their own timescales.

  

Stage:           What happens: Estimated time per stage of the process:
Eligibility We will assess if your complaint is eligible to be admitted to the complaint process. 3 months
Mediation If your complaint is suitable for mediation this will be offered to you. 2 months
Investigation Once your complaint is allocated to a Case Investigator, an investigation will be carried out and a recommendation will be made. 7 months
Determination If both parties do not accept the recommendation, the complaint will progress to the final stage and a formal determination will be made by a Determination Committee. 4 months
  EXAMPLE TOTAL TIME 16 MONTHS

Does it cost anything to make a complaint to the SLCC?

No. The SLCC does not charge a fee for investigating a complaint. We are funded by a levy on the legal profession.

What can the SLCC decide if my service complaint is upheld?

If we uphold your service complaint, we can take whatever steps we consider fair and reasonable.

We can:

  • ask the practitioner to adjust his fees;
  • ask the practitioner to re-do work;
  • direct the practitioner to take other action we specify;
  • direct the practitioner to pay compensation where someone has been affected;
  • report the practitioner to the relevant professional body if there is a competence or conduct issue.

Will I be given a copy of the SLCC's decision?

Yes. The decision will be sent directly to you and to the practitioner (or the firm of practitioners) you complained about. If the complaint is about both service and conduct, the decision will also be sent to the professional organisation.

What happens if I don’t accept the settlement proposed by the Case Investigator in the investigation report?

If the investigator recommends the complaint be upheld and the proposed settlement is not acceptable to you, the SLCC will make a formal determination (decision). The SLCC Commissioners will do this at a Determination Committee.

What can I do if I am unhappy with a decision made by the SLCC?

If you disagree with the decision made about a complaint, you have a right of appeal to the Court of Session under Section 21 of The Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007.

If you wish to appeal you must not delay, as an appeal must normally be made within 28 days of the SLCC's decision. You may wish to seek independent legal advice about lodging an appeal as we are unable to provide you with detailed advice on this.

It would be helpful if you could contact us to let us know that you have lodged, or intend to lodge, an appeal and let us know who your legal advisors are.

There is no provision in the 2007 Act to appeal a handling complaint decision.

What happened to the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman?

The office of the SLSO ceased to exist from 1st October 2008. However, as part of the transition process, the SLCC still investigates handling complaints about conduct and service which relate to issues or instructions given before 1st October 2008 and this is under the powers of the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman.

Can I complain about someone else’s solicitor? (this is called a third party complaint)

Yes, under the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, any person can make a complaint about the conduct of a legal practitioner. If you wish to complain about the service of a legal practitioner, where you are not the client, the SLCC will regard this as a third party service complaint. These can be made by any person who appears to have been directly affected by the suggested inadequate professional services to the practitioner's own client.

Can I make a complaint about SLCC staff?

Yes. The SLCC is keen to provide as professional and helpful a service as possible. If you are unhappy with the service you receive from the SLCC you should contact us. A manager will contact you and will look into your complaint.

For further information on this, please see the separate guidance, "Unhappy with our service?"

I am unhappy with my solicitor’s bill, what can I do?

If you are unhappy with the amount of fee charged, but satisfied with the quality of service, you should do the following:

  • Refer to the Terms of Business/Engagement letter your solicitor should have sent to you when you instructed them. This letter should set out how the solicitor/firm propose to charge you for the work carried out e.g. an agreed fee or an hourly rate.
  • Speak to your solicitor about it first. They may be able to go through the bill with you and explain how the fee was calculated. If you are still not happy, you should direct your concerns to the Client Relations Partner of the firm.
  • If there is still no agreement, you can opt to have your file audited by the Auditor of Court; this process is called Taxation. The Auditor will look at your file independently and decide whether or not the fee you have been charged is fair and reasonable. The Auditor has the discretion to lower the fee note to what they deem to be a fair and reasonable amount. As well as having the discretion to lower the fee note, the Auditor can also raise the fee note to a higher amount than what the solicitor has charged.

Can I make the complaint on behalf of someone else?

Yes. There is a section in our complaint form which you and the person on whose behalf you are making the complaint, should complete and sign. Please note that we may contact that person to get their agreement to pursue the complaint.

Will the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates still have a role in investigating complaints?

Yes. As professional organisations, the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates have a role in the regulation of their members. We refer complaints about the conduct of legal practitioners to them in the first instance. The SLCC's role here is where an individual is unhappy about the way in which the professional organisation has dealt with their conduct complaint. We also monitor how the professional organisations deal with conduct complaints as part of our oversight role.

Do I still need to complain to the practitioner/firm even if I was not their client? Should I expect a response?

Yes. Section 4(4) of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, provides that the SLCC should not take any action on a complaint where the practitioner concerned has not been given a reasonable opportunity to deal with it themselves.  This includes a complaint against a solicitor who did not act for you, what we call a third-party complaint. 

Once you have made the complaint to the third party solicitor, they may respond to your complaint through your own solicitor (if you have one), or to you directly, depending on what is appropriate in the circumstances.  Third party complaints are complex as the solicitor has a duty of confidentiality to their own client, which may restrict their ability to respond.

What happens if the SLCC decides the professional organisation’s investigation wasn’t fair and thorough?

If the SLCC finds that the professional organisation has failed to handle the complaint properly, we can recommend that the professional organisation

  • provide you with more information;
  • exercise their powers in relation to the practitioner;
  • investigate the complaint further;
  • reconsider their decision;
  • pay a modest  amount of compensation for inconvenience loss or distress caused to you by poor complaint handling.

Where the SLCC upholds your complaint, we may recommend reimbursement of part or all of your costs in making your complaint to us. You should let the SLCC know if you have incurred any costs beyond the costs of stationery and postage.

Does the professional organisation have to accept the SLCC’s recommendations?

The professional organisation has three months to advise the SLCC and the parties in the handling complaint, what action it has taken to comply with the SLCC's recommendations, or its decision not to comply.

The SLCC can direct the professional organisation to comply if it considers it appropriate to do so. If a direction is necessary, this will be decided by one of the SLCC's Determination Committees. The parties will be notified of any direction made by the SLCC. 

Can the SLCC accept complaints about inadequate professional services which pre-date January 1989?

Complaints about inadequate professional service cannot be accepted if the alleged inadequate professional service pre-dates January 1989. The Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1988 which introduced the statutory concept of inadequate professional service, did not have retrospective effect and was not applied to complaints relating to events that occurred prior to its commencement in January 1989. There is no provision in The Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 (“2007 Act”), to enable the SLCC to extend the concept of inadequate professional service back beyond the commencement of the 1988 Act in January 1989. It would be necessary for the 2007 Act to make express provision for such retrospective effect in order to overcome the strong common law presumption that professional persons should not be subjected to disciplinary sanctions in respect of conduct that did not constitute a disciplinary offence at the time that it occurred. There are no such express provisions in the 2007 Act.

Can the SLCC provide me with legal advice?

No. The SLCC has no authority to provide legal or procedural advice; we can only advise on how to make a complaint against a legal practitioner or professional organisation and on our complaints process. We have no power to assist you in finding legal representation or assist you in any ongoing legal proceedings. Should you require this kind of advice you should seek your own independent legal advice.

What is meant by the term "Commissioners"?

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has nine Commissioners who fulfil their legal requirements and obligations as outlined in the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act, 2007. In relation to complaints, the Commissioners make determinations, or decisions in accordance with their powers under the Act. There are some Commissioners with a legal background and other lay Commissioners. When determining issues in their committees, there is always a majority of lay members.

They also have a role in setting guidance for SLCC staff in relation to the complaints processes. They are appointed for a period of between four and five years.

How do I contact the SLCC?

You can write to us at:
Scottish Legal Complaints Commission
The Stamp Office
10 - 14 Waterloo Place
EDINBURGH
EH1 3EG

or telephone on: 0131 201 2130

or fax: 0131 201 2131

or by email at: enquiries@scottishlegalcomplaints.org.uk

 

Is the SLCC independent?

Yes. The SLCC operates independently of the Scottish Government, Scottish Legal Profession, the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates and Association of Commercial Attorneys. We appreciate our position of independence is valued by our service users by providing a greater sense of impartiality and objectivity to reviewing complaints.


If you have a question that has not been answered by one of the questions above, please contact us and we'll do our best to answer your query.