Douglas Mill: This town ain’t big enough for the both of us



Douglas Mill

And Sparks will fly. Which will mean more to solicitors over 55.

Well, it’s kicking off again. SLCC v LSS - and this time it’s personal, as Holywood and boxing promoters like to say.

SLN has run a couple of articles this week on the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission annual report and the Law Society of Scotland response. And we’ll come back to that later.

In the meantime let’s look at the background to where we are.

The Law Society of Scotland lost their primary complaints role in 2007. Why? Were they bad at it? Nope, but the English had made such an unholy mess of it that change down there was well merited and it gave Scottish politicians the excuse to bash solicitors-or, as I heard a Scottish Minister once describe us, “youse rich lawers”. So, why should Scottish consumers be disadvantaged, blah blah blah. And I can still hear the Clementi mantra about regulatory mazes in England.

So, were we dire at it? Nope-no statistical failure. Indeed the ever-assiduous and dedicated Philip Yelland and his team had been comprehensively put through the mill previously on complaints performance by a particularly socially-challenged then president and came up smelling of roses.

You can win actuality wars, but in the new Scotland you can’t win perception wars. Thus the Legal Profession and Legal Aid Scotland Act 2007. A right rivetting read.

And what a mess that was. Right up there with the inept ABS cracker.

And that is the problem. And where we are is inevitable. Forseeable that the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission would eventually get its confidence and what they see as a “bad case” and start the time-honoured jape of tank parking. Because that’s what happens when you create a regulatory maze we didn’t have.

And a few weeks ago, reading my Sunday Times (am I alone in detesting Camilla Long?), I nearly choked on my constitutional caffeine,when I saw Neil Stevenson (ex-LSS and now SLCC supremo) smiling at me wanting stronger rules under a headline, “Reform Call For ‘Unfit ’ Lawyers”. And, no he doesn’t mean those of us to whom a lamb karahi is no stranger. Although that may come. Unfit lawyers? It’s a given.

Why? Because SLCC didn’t like a court decision and didn’t mind who knew that or how. A decision they said which upset decades of practice. For a seven-year-old body? Stronger rules needed – which is shorthand for give us more power and sideline LSS and keep these awful judges out of it while you are at it.

Stevenson says: “Meantime the unhappy consumer raises a handling complaint. Then the professional body investigate, but in the meantime the unhappy solicitor appeals the SSDT decision and it’s off we all go on a jolly holiday to the Court of Session”.

Well, strong words which have not gone unnoticed by our Senators. Hardly respectful stuff from the CEO of a statutory body and many have interpreted it as a calculated dig about bias. Well,you know what all these lawyers are like and judges… out of touch.

This is puerile and dangerous and is lapped up by politicians keen to dust off a bit of lawyer-bashing legislation every five years or so. Well, you know what they are like .

And you’ll note the implication that solicitors are happy to whimsically appeal. All a jolly jape? No. I deal with solicitors and they take complaints and how long they take to resolve very seriously. And I have not met one who wants things to take as long as they now do. No solicitor goes to the Court of Session except as a last resort. And when they get there, they may not like the result,but they respect the court. And they tend not to call a journalist.

And there is nothing in all this to displace the feeling, growing in the profession, that SLCC looks to give the consumer, “something”.

Paradoxically (and hilariously from my perspective) complaints now do seem to take a lot longer since SLCC entered the ring. Bound to. Convoluted procedures. And SLCC will blame LSS and vice versa. And you know what, again the actuality will hardly matter. Both call for new regulatory powers. Who do you think might get them?

SLCC see themselves as on the side of the angels and so will Holyrood. Actual performance is hearts: perception is spades as my old bridge-playing dad would have said.

So, the tit for tat begins between two statutory bodies over the turf that is judging hard-working and hard-pressed solicitors. Who (did I mention it?) pay for the whole lot anyway. And who will be traduced in the press and the debates. Dirty washing in public, guys.

So, the important thing – a bottle of Pomeroys to the first e-mail suggesting a relevant alternative musical heading to this article.

And, well done Tom Marshall of Thompsons for being a sad ’70s anorak last month.

Douglas R Mill