§ Mr. Clark Hutchison
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he can now make a statement about his discussions with the Law Society of Scotland to consider improvements in the arrangements for dealing with complaints against solicitors.
§ Mr. Gordon Campbell
Yes. These discussions took place following an undertaking given on 17th May by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs in the course of the proceedings on the Fair Trading Bill.284W
At present it is open to anyone who wishes to make a complaint against a solicitor to lodge it with the Solicitors' Discipline (Scotland) Committee, which is a statutory body consisting of solicitors appointed for the purpose by the Lord President of the Court of Session. Practically all complaints go, however, to the Law Society of Scotland, which regards itself as being under the duty to investigate such complaints.
Following discussions with the society it is proposed, with the full backing of the council of the society, to make two important changes in the existing arrangements.
The purpose of the proposed changes is to introduce a lay element into the procedure for considering complaints against solicitors. The Lord President of the Court of Session has agreed to appoint a panel of lay members for the Solicitors' Discipline (Scotland) Committee ; and it is proposed to change the committee's constitution to provide that any quorum must include at least one lay member. This change will require an amendment to the Solicitors (Scotland) Acts, and it is hoped that an early legislative opportunity will be found for this.
It is also proposed that there should be a lay complaints commissioner, also appointed by the Lord President, who would have the duty of considering complaints referred to him by members of the public dissatisfied with the handling of their complaints by the society. The complaints commissioner, who would have access to papers but would not hold hearings, would be able, if the Law Society disagreed with his recommendation on a particular complaint, to take the complaint direct to the Solicitors Discipline (Scotland) Committee. These arrangements can be made without legislation and it is hoped to introduce them within a fairly short time.
In addition to these arrangements, the Law Society of Scotland has told me that, on its own initiative, it wishes to strengthen its own arrangements for dealing with complaints against solicitors. Its proposals, which will require legislation, include the provision of powers to enable the society to take over documents relating to a complaint if a solicitor fails to give an explanation of undue delay ; and a discretion to refuse 285W to issue a practising certificate or to issue a practising certificate subject to conditions, or to suspend a solicitor who has been asked to give an explanation of his conduct in relation to a complaint and has either failed to do so or has failed to provide a sufficient or satisfactory explanation.