The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has written to solicitors’ firms requesting disclosure of information regarding complaints made against firms by clients and, presumably, other interested parties. It is always a matter of great difficulty for solicitors to disclose to third parties information derived from their clients’ files. There is an instinctive reaction to treat clients’ information in the same way that clients’ money is treated and to regard it as not being at the disposal of third parties. There is also the issue as to the privacy of the solicitor’s own business information. When we sought the views of a number of experienced practitioners and advisers as to whether this information should be supplied to SLCC, the immediate response was unanimously negative. The following observations are offered:
- The notice given by SLCC of this enquiry is insufficient to enable the solicitors’ profession to give collegiate consideration to and to make a considered decision upon the very important issue as to whether or not this sensitive information should be disclosed..
- The cost of this exercise has to be borne by the solicitors’ profession and no information has been provided as to whether that cost has been estimated and as to whether the exercise will be cost effective.
- No information is given as to whether or how SLCC has satisfied itself that this exercise falls within its statutory remit and its entitlement to expose solicitors to these costs.
- The SLCC request does not advise as to whether or not there is any obligation on the part of solicitors to provide this information.
- Information held by solicitors is private whereas information held by SLCC is subject to Freedom of Information enquiry, disclosure and publication.
- Law Society officials recommend that firms disclose this information to SLCC.
- Solicitors do not have any obligation to disclose this information to SLCC.
- A better option might be for the information to be gathered within the profession where it would remain confidential and beyond the scope of Freedom of Information enquiry and only the conclusions be transmitted to SLCC. This might be achieved through the faculty structure or through the Scottish Law Agents Society.
- Any research carried out at this stage might helpfully include enquiry into the extent to which the current complaints system accommodates abuse of process by persons who are dissatisfied with proper legal findings
- The best initial response to this enquiry might be to ask for a further period of time to enable the foregoing issues to be considered and resolved.
Members are invited to submit their own reflections and suggestions in relation to this development.