Section 81 – Complaints about providers
167.Section 81 amends the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 (“the 2007 Act”) by inserting a new Part 2A making special provision for licensed providers in respect of complaints.
168.The basic approach of the 2007 Act, which the Act retains, is that all complaints about legal professionals or law firms are initially considered by the SLCC, but the only complaints which are investigated by the SLCC are those found to be about inadequate professional services (“services complaints”) or about how other complaints have been handled (“handling complaints”). Complaints which are found to be about the professional conduct of a legal professional (“conduct complaints”) are referred to the relevant professional organisation (e.g. the Society or Faculty) for investigation and possible disciplinary action.
169.New section 57A of the 2007 Act provides that conduct complaints may not be made about licensed providers, although they can be made about legal professionals working in the licensed provider. Services complaints may be made about either the licensed provider or individual practitioners within the provider. If an approved regulator receives a conduct complaint or a services complaint about a practitioner in one of its licensed providers, it must send the complaint and any relevant material to the SLCC without delay (unless the complaint came from the SLCC).
170.Various duties apply to the relevant professional organisation in the 2007 Act, for example, to liaise with the SLCC if a complaint being dealt with as a conduct complaint appears on investigation to be a services complaint (section 15 of the 2007 Act), and to provide the SLCC with information (section 37 of the 2007 Act). These duties are also imposed on approved regulators by sections 57A and 57B of the 2007 Act in relation to services complaints against licensed providers and the new regulatory complaints.
171.New section 57B of the 2007 Act introduces a new type of complaint – a “regulatory complaint” which can be made about a licensed provider alleging that it has not acted in accordance with the regulatory objectives, the professional principles, the approved regulator’s regulatory scheme, or the conditions of its licence. These complaints will be referred by the SLCC to the approved regulator to deal with, in accordance with the regulatory scheme. The procedures and functions of the SLCC are essentially the same as in respect of a conduct complaint.
172.New section 57C(1) and (2) of the 2007 Act deal with the levy to be paid by a licensed provider to the SLCC. In addition to any levy paid by individual practitioners in the entity, the licensed provider must itself pay an annual general levy, which might be a different amount from that paid by individual practitioners and might differ depending on the type of licensed provider. This gives the SLCC the discretion to impose an additional levy on licensed providers if the cost of regulating complaints against such providers is disproportionately high. However, it is possible for this annual levy to be set at nil – meaning only the legal professionals in the licensed provider would pay the normal general levy. It would also be possible for the SLCC to reduce the levy in respect of professionals in a licensed provider under the provisions of section 29(2) of the 2007 Act. The SLCC is required to consult with approved regulators and licensed providers each year in relation to its budget for the next financial year. Approved regulators are required to provide the SLCC with an estimate of the number of licensed providers it regulates and which should be liable to pay the levy in the relevant financial year.
173.New section 57C(5) of the 2007 Act requires the SLCC to provide advice about making a regulatory complaint if requested and gives the SLCC power to issue guidance to approved regulators and licensed providers about how the latter should deal with regulatory complaints.
174.New section 57D of the 2007 Act requires approved regulators to collect the annual general levy due to the SLCC from its licensed providers (under new section 57C of the 2007 Act, inserted by section 65 of the Act), and to pay the total amount of the levies collected to the SLCC. This requirement is equivalent to that placed on professional organisations (i.e. the Society, the Faculty, and the Association of Commercial Attorneys) under section 27 of the 2007 Act.
175.The provisions of the 2007 Act in relation to the failure to pay and late payments of levies are applied to the levies payable by licensed providers (section 57D(2) to (5)).
176.New section 57E of the 2007 Act indicates that a complaint about how an approved regulator has handled a conduct complaint is dealt with in the same way as a complaint about how a conduct complaint has been handled by a relevant professional organisation (see Parts 1 and 2 of the 2007 Act).
177.New section 57F allows the SLCC to monitor the effectiveness of any compensation fund set up by an approved regulator, in the same way as it may monitor the effectiveness of the Guarantee Fund under section 39 of the 2007 Act.
178.New section 57G of the 2007 Act ensures that certain terms used in the new Part 2A of the 2007 Act have the same meanings as in the Act.