The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr Brian Lenihan, T.D., today published the Legal Practitioners (Irish Language) Bill 2007. The Bill, which replaces existing statutory provisions for Irish language competence for barristers and solicitors, promotes the better use of the Irish language by legal practitioners and the provision of legal services through Irish.

In particular, the Bill requires King’s Inns and the Law Society to provide for courses of study and the establishment of registers by them showing details of practitioners who are able to provide legal services in Irish.

Publishing the Bill, Minister Lenihan stated: "These new arrangements will involve a significant improvement in the teaching of Irish by King’s Inns and the Law Society and a much more effective way of achieving the Government’s Irish language objectives. I believe this Bill will provide for a level of proficiency in Irish in the legal profession of a significantly higher standard than is currently being delivered under existing statutory provisions, thereby ensuring that all persons wishing to exercise their constitutional right to use Irish in proceedings before the courts can do so. "

The Bill requires that King’s Inns and the Law Society have regard to Government policy on bilingualism and take reasonable steps to ensure that an adequate number of barristers and solicitors are able to practice the law through the Irish language. The Bill provides that King’s Inns and the Law Society should hold courses on Irish legal terminology and the understanding of legal texts in the Irish language to enable practitioners to identify the nature of the service being sought and, where appropriate, to facilitate a referral to a practitioner competent to provide a service through Irish.

Both King’s Inns and the Law Society will also establish an advanced course on the practice of law through the Irish language as optional subjects in their professional training courses.  This advanced course would be open to others who are not students but who wish to obtain a competence enabling them to practice law through Irish.

Examinations in the practice of law through Irish will be held at least once a year and only those persons who have undertaken the advanced course will be permitted to sit the examinations. The name and contact details of barristers and solicitors who pass the examinations will be entered on registers established and published by King’s Inns and the Law Society.  Both bodies will be required to submit a report to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on an annual basis on the operation of the new arrangements.

Commenting on the publication of the Bill, Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Éamon Ó Cuív TD said: "The reality was that for many years, the passing of the tests specified in either the 1929 or 1954 Solicitors Acts did not signify an ability to carry out business through Irish.  With the proposed changes in education and qualification, a coterie of practitioners will now be available who will be competent to conduct business in the Courts through Irish. The keeping of a register of such qualified practitioners will facilitate ease of access by the practitioners and public alike to services through Irish, thus assisting implementation in practice of the provisions of the Official Languages Act 2003."

The Bill is available on the Oireachtas website 

November 2007