LAW firm partners are to bear the brunt of the rising cost of dealing with complaints against legal practitioners under a proposal put forward by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

In its draft budget for 2019/20 the organisation, which is funded by a professional levy, noted that as the number of complaints it receives has continued to rise it expects its expenditure to increase from £3.4 million in the current financial year to £3.7m in the year beginning July 1.

Rather than apply an across the board levy increase to cover the rise, however, the SLCC has mooted raising the amount it charges law firm partners by 28 per cent while freezing or reducing the amount paid by everyone else.

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SLCC chief executive Neil Stevenson said the aim is to make partners, who are the owners of the businesses they work in, take more responsibility for the level of service their organisation delivers.

“Complaints have been increasing for the past three years and in the first six months of this year it looks like they are rising again – we’ve had an unusual case which means it could be as high as 20%, but the minimum is 6%,” he said.

“We’ve also found in the last decade that the complaints have had very similar themes – they relate to conveyancing, wills and executory.

“That puts the focus on the businesses that are delivering those services because they control the quality and this is one of the few things we can do to get firms thinking about how we reduce complaints against them.”

While the proposal is still subject to consultation among the groups affected, if taken forward it would result in partners at law firms of all sizes paying £494 next year while the solicitors their firms employ would continue to pay £386.

In-house solicitors and advocates, who are the subject of far fewer complaints than private practice solicitors, would see their fees reduce by 8%, to £116 and £183 respectively.

However, the Law Society of Scotland, which has long been critical of the way the SLCC operates, warned that the changes could ultimately lead to higher prices for consumers of legal services.

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Law Society president Alison Atack said that rather then looking to raise more money from the profession the SLCC should look at ways of making its processes “quicker and more efficient”.

That was a major focus of a 2018 review carried out by NHS24 chairman Esther Roberton, who has suggested that a single independent regulator be introduced to both regulate the profession and deal with complaints against practitioners.

A consultation on Ms Roberton's recommendations is yet to launch, but, if approved, a new body would ultimately supersede the SLCC, Law Society and Faculty of Advocates.

Angela Grahame QC, vice-dean of the Faculty of Advocates, said that while her organisation is supportive of the proposed reduction to advocates’ SLCC levies, “the bigger issue is how we make regulation of the legal sector in Scotland more effective and efficient for all those involved”.