I am delighted to present the SSDT’s Annual Report for 1 November 2021 to 31 October 2022. The beginning of this year was dominated by COVID restrictions. Although those have now been lifted, the Tribunal continues to use the measures developed during the pandemic to help it deal with cases fairly, efficiently and cost effectively. As was predicted in last year’s annual report, the Tribunal now holds most of its procedural and preliminary hearings by video conference. However, evidential hearings are generally held in person. The Tribunal is of the view that this flexible approach allows it to meet its obligations in terms of acting within the legislative framework and the principles of natural justice. The Tribunal endeavours to deal with cases efficiently and expeditiously while being independent, impartial and transparent.
This year the Tribunal has rolled out iPads to all members to assist them with remote hearings and to ensure even better compliance with data protection requirements. Papers are provided to members in electronic bundles. In cases with lots of productions, authorities and documents, the Tribunal Office has provided the relevant electronic bundles to the parties too. This will be done in suitable cases in the next year and the Tribunal Office would be pleased to receive users’ feedback on this procedure.
In recent years, the Tribunal has received a reduced number of Complaints and Appeals. That downward trend continued this year. However, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission reported an increase in complaints in its annual report for 2021-2022. The Tribunal therefore expects its cases may rise in the next few years as these cases filter through the system.
The Scottish Government recently published its response to the finding of the consultation on Legal Services Regulation Reform in Scotland. The Tribunal looks forward to seeing more detail about the Scottish Government’s proposed approach. It hopes that the reforms will deal with its concerns regarding the delay in cases reaching the Tribunal, the absence of a fitness to practise regime for solicitors, the arrangements for appointing solicitor members to the Tribunal and the inability to impose interim orders on solicitors whose actions may be a danger to the public.
The UK Government has recently proposed that the Tribunal’s powers to fine are increased in cases involving economic crime. The Tribunal is monitoring developments with interest while advocating at appropriate junctures for increased powers to fine in all cases. It may be that this can be addressed as part of the Scottish Government’s proposals following its consultation on Legal Services Regulation Reform in Scotland.
The Tribunal has drafted new procedural rules. The Lord President has provided some feedback to the Tribunal on the draft rules and its proposed approach to expenses. The Tribunal seeks views on both these matters. The consultation documents are available on the Tribunal website. The consultations close on 1 June 2023.
I wish to express my thanks to the Tribunal members for their support, dedication and encouragement this year. I am also grateful to the Tribunal Office staff for all their assistance. I look forward to leading the Tribunal into the next year and dealing with the inevitable challenges that arise.