· Minister Fitzgerald TD today completed the passage of the Legal Services Regulation Bill through the Dáil.
· This includes new measures for the introduction and governance of new business models for the delivery of legal services in the State.
· It is now expected that Seanad Second Stage of the Bill will commence in mid-May.
· It remains the Government’s intention that the Bill be completed so that the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority can become operational without delay this year.
22 April 2015
Minister Fitzgerald thanked Dáil Deputies, the legal professional bodies and other stakeholders in the Bill for their constructive engagement in bringing the Bill closer to enactment in the completion of its passage through the Dáil today.
The Minister also thanked her predecessor, Alan Shatter TD, for his earlier work on the Bill, especially at Dáil Committee Stage, when key enhancements to the independence of the new regulatory regime and to the transparency of legal costs were introduced.
Minister Fitzgerald looks forward to a renewed engagement with stakeholders in the Bill over the coming weeks in preparing the Bill for the successful completion of its passage through the Seanad and to enactment without delay.
Note To Editors:
The key amendments introduced to the Bill this week consist of three main elements:
· A series of new amendments to strengthen the regulatory powers of the new Authority and to make additional prudential provision for any future participation in Legal Partnerships and Multi-Disciplinary Practices.
· Legal Partnerships will be subject to a public consultation process to be completed within six months of the establishment of the new Regulatory Authority and then to be introduced within six months of those consultations being completed.
· In recognition of the fact that MDPs are still being rolled out in other jurisdictions, provision will now be made to conduct detailed research on the likely effects which their introduction may have on competition, on the Irish legal services market and in relation to the legal professions. The findings of this research on MDPs will then inform the six-month public consultation process already envisaged under the Bill. The commencement of the provisions governing MDPs will then become a matter for the Minister following these processes, on foot of their outcomes and recommendations.
It is expected that further significant areas of amendment for the Seanad Stages will arise in relation to matters such as inspections and complaints; the Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Tribunal; Limited Liability Partnerships, pre-action protocols for medical negligence cases, e-filing in the courts; interpretations; transitional arrangements and repeals and staffing provision.
The Main provisions of the Legal Services Regulation Bill
The Legal Services Regulation Bill has four main levers of modernisation and change, which are -
I. a new, independent, Legal Services Regulatory Authority with responsibility for the oversight of both solicitors and barristers. While the Law Society has successfully discharged the function of statutory regulator under the Solicitors Acts up to now, barristers have not been subject to similar legislation. Part 2 of the Bill refers.
II. an independent complaints system to deal with public complaints including those relating to professional misconduct. There will also be an independent Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Tribunal to deal with both legal professions thereby replacing the two existing Tribunals. The public will now make their complaints directly to the new Authority and not through the professional bodies as happens at present. The Law Society has welcomed the setting up of an independent complaints framework since the Bill’s inception. Parts 5 and 6 of the Bill refer.
III. a framework for Alternative Business Models. The Bill, in Part 8, facilitates new forms of legal services provision such as Legal Partnerships and Multi-disciplinary practices. Legal Partnerships will permit partnerships between barristers and partnerships between solicitors and barristers. Multi-disciplinary practices will permit partnerships between solicitors and /or barristers and others. These new legal business are intended to provide more competitive business structures for the delivery of legal services to consumers and enterprise alongside those more traditional legal service models that will remain in place. It should be noted that the new legal business models provided in the Bill, including multi-disciplinary partnerships, will follow the completion of the relevant public consultation and reporting processes conducted by the new Legal Services Regulation Authority.
IV. a new and enhanced legal costs regime that will bring greater transparency to legal costs and will apply to barristers as well as to solicitors. The Bill sets out, for the first time in legislation, a set of Legal Costs Principles (Schedule 1) with enhanced requirements of disclosure to clients in relation to legal costs. The Bill also provides that the existing Office of the Taxing-Master will be re-designated the Office of the Legal Costs Adjudicator to deal with disputes about legal costs, to prepare Guidelines and will maintain a public Register of Determinations. Part 10 of the Bill refers.