The Scottish Government this week instituted a legal services review that could emulate England and Wales in taking complaints-handling away from the legal profession.

The government announced a wide-ranging review that will ‘modernise’ laws underpinning the legal profession’s current regulatory system.

Ministers say they are concerned the current regime is not fit for purpose and has not kept up with developments in the legal services market, with worries in particular that processes for complaints about solicitors are too slow and complex.

The review will look again at whether the Law Society of Scotland should be responsible for investigating complaints about the conduct of its members.

It may also re-examine the conditions associated with creating alternative business structures in Scotland, which have still not go the go ahead despite sitting on the statute book for seven years. 

The existing system for handling complaints was created by the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 which established the independent Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. This body decides if the complaint relates to the service provided or the conduct of a solicitor and whether the SLCC or the Law Society of Scotland – or both – should investigate the matter.

Annabelle Ewing, minister for community safety and legal affairs, said: ‘Members of the public must be able to have confidence in the service they get from their solicitor. While this happens most of the time, I have been listening carefully to concerns that the current regulatory system in Scotland may leave consumers exposed and does not adequately address complaints.’

The review, led by non-lawyer Esther Robertson, currently chair of the NHS 24 helpline, will consider changes required to protect consumer interests and promote a ‘flourishing legal sector’. Ewing said the proposals will ensure the regulatory framework is ‘proportionate’ for legal firms.

Robertson added: ‘I hope we can simplify the current complaints process to maximise consumers’ confidence in the system.’

The review is expected to report back with proposals by the end of 2018.

Any recommendation to take complaints handling away from the profession would echo the work done in England and Wales through the Legal Services Act, which led to the creation of the Office for Legal Complaints.