Minister Shatter is not in a position to comment in detail on the impact assessment of the Legal Services Regulation Bill published by the Bar Council having only been provided with a copy since its announcement this afternoon. In any event, the Government will be publishing its Regulatory Impact Assessment of the Bill in advance of the Bill's forthcoming Committee Stage as confirmed by Minister Shatter in his concluding statement for Committee Stage of the Bill on 23rd February - available at Speeches on www.justice.ie.
However, the Minister remains extremely disappointed at the Bar Council's continued, misguided and misleading campaign against legal sector reform and, in essence, against any form of independent regulation of its own members. Having attempted to undermine the independent regulatory and disciplinary system to be established under the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority, the Bar Council continues to advocate the preservation of its exclusive reserve through the continuation of regulation of itself by itself - with utter disregard for the wider interests of its clients and the public at large. It is impossible to reconcile the stance of the Bar Council which criticises the independence of the proposed new regulatory architecture whilst advocating continued self-regulation under its own supervision. The Council's continued inability to come to terms with its inclusion in the package of sectoral reforms essential to the process of national recovery under the EU/IMF/ECB Programme is baffling.
As well as being noteworthy for its selective omission of the independent regulation of the Bar as a matter of decided Government policy, the press release of the Bar Council fails to note the fact that the €11.5 million spent annually by the Law Society on regulatory matters is already a substantial cost to every practising solicitor in the country which impacts on the legal fees paid by clients of all solicitors and barristers. The Bar Council also fails to acknowledge that the Law Society has announced in both the public and professional interests that it supports the independent complaints and disciplinary procedures being established under the new Legal Services Regulation Bill - i.e. to optimalise public perceptions of impartiality and avoid any perception that complaints about lawyers are being dealt with essentially by lawyers themselves. Under the new Bill, complaints of alleged misconduct by both solicitors and barristers will be dealt with by the complaints committee of the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority and by the Legal Practitioners' Disciplinary Tribunal and, as a consequence, the public will no longer go to the Law Society or the Bar Council with their complaints as they do at present. Moreover, the Minister has confirmed in his concluding statement for Second Stage of the Bill on 23rd February that amendments will be tabled at Committee Stage with regard to the independent appointment of the Legal Services Regulatory Authority and to the Legal Practitioners' Disciplinary Tribunal so that no perception of any nature can arise as to these bodies being anything other than independent of Government.
The Minister again takes this opportunity to encourage the Bar Council to engage more directly and constructively with the Government on the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011 upon which there has been substantial progress during Second Stage including in relation to some of the Council's own areas of concern. In this way the Bar Council will be in a better position to appreciate the substantial progress already made towards achieving an appropriate balance between the independence of the legal professions and the Government's stated policy objective of independent regulation in support of early, national recovery and in the interests of consumers of legal services.