Significant trends and issues arising from the compliance audits performed in 2015-16.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

We would like to update you about some significant trends and issues arising from the compliance audits performed in 2015-16. 

Compliance Audit Results

We performed Compliance Audits of 154 firms registered for criminal legal assistance in the year, and the results are set out in the table below.

compliance update







The majority of firms were found to comply with the requirements of the Code of Practice for criminal legal assistance. Firms with less than satisfactory performance are being supported by the Compliance department in making the necessary improvements to achieve a satisfactory standard of compliance.

What are the common issues identified in audits?

To make the audit process useful for all solicitors, we have summarised here the main problems and how to avoid them. Please use this information to review how your firm practises legal aid and to avoid the problems and consequences that others have encountered. Compliance Audit work uncovered a number of issues relating to accounts which has resulted in the Auditors requesting reimbursements totalling £334,000 in 2015-16. 

Implications of Non-Compliance Level 3

A total of 18 firms were served with Notices of Non-Compliance Level 3 (“NNC3”) in the year to 31 March 2016. The key areas of failure related to:

  • the validity of applications and accounts
  • failings in time-recording
  • the lack of the required detail on attendance notes
  • an absence or inadequate narrative within the files, in particular in relation to perusal charges or the altering of file content/other records in respect of files requested either prior to or during the compliance audit.

To assist in verification/validity of applications and accounting practices the Compliance department has access to information held by the Scottish Courts so that we can carry out checks on information provided to us.

We are concerned that there are a small number of firms that have now received consecutive Notices of Non-Compliance Level 3, the most significant of all the audit failings. It is important that firms respond promptly and effectively to notices of non-compliance.

If not, we will consider excluding from the Register those firms, or individual solicitors within firms, who fail to address non-compliance with the Code.

For firms who have partners or employees within the firm who fail to address non-compliance findings, the firm as a whole may risk being de-registered as no remedial action has been taken to resolve the failings of individuals within the firm.

Following the issue of two Level 3 audit outcomes in a row, the Compliance Partner may be invited to meet with us to discuss the issues and the firm’s plans for improvement. Thereafter a further audit will be conducted. Should this result in a further Level 3 then we will re-consider the firm’s position on the Criminal Legal Assistance Register. 

Compliance Audit Outcomes

We ask Compliance Partners to complete a Compliance Audit Effectiveness Questionnaire. This is used to assess where the audit process and our interaction with firms could be improved.

This year, the overall effectiveness rating was 91%, indicating a high level of satisfaction with the input of, and the interaction with, the Compliance Auditors.

The Compliance Auditors are always prepared to provide assistance and guidance to firms on how their systems could be improved. Since they see the systems of a wide range of registered firms as part of their work, they can provide advice on what they have found works best.

The full Compliance Audit results are available for download.

Further information
If you would like further information please contact:
Brian Millar – Compliance Manager, Tel: 0131 240 2043 Email:

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