15 December 2015
The Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD has welcomed the completion of all stages the Legal Services Regulation Bill in the Oireachtas.
Following its passage by the Houses the bill will be sent to the President for his signature in accordance with the Constitution.
Minister Fitzgerald stated: “The Government committed to completing the passage of the Bill by the end of this year. This has now been achieved and I look forward to the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority coming into operation early in 2016.”
The Bill delivers on the Programme for Government commitment to “Establish independent regulation of the legal professions to improve access and competition, make legal costs more transparent and ensure adequate procedures for addressing consumer complaints”.
The proposed reforms respond to 34 years of Reports recommending reforms to the legal profession, going back to the Restrictive Practices Commission report in 1982.
The Minister added: “ Today marks a historic day for legal reform in Ireland.”
“This landmark bill will deliver real and lasting reform in legal services to the benefit of the entire justice system.”
“The unprecedented series of reforms introduced by this Government will support equality of access to Justice for all and will help reduce both delays and legal costs benefitting consumers, SME’s, the State and the economy as a whole.
As a result of this bill, we will have in 2016, for the first time ever:
· An Independent statutory regulator for all legal practitioners – the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority;
· An Independent Public Complaints Regime;
· A new single Disciplinary Tribunal for solicitors and barristers (The public will no longer make complaints through the legal representative bodies as happens at present);
· New Business Models for legal practitioners including barrister/barrister and barrister/solicitor partnerships and multi-disciplinary practices, subject to regulation by the new Authority;
· A new Office of the Legal Costs Adjudicator to replace the Taxing Master’s Office together with new regulatory measures relating to legal fees.
The bill will also:
· Introduce greater and more client-focussed transparency obligations in relation to legal costs, what clients must be told and how legal costs disputes may be resolved.
· Provide for regulated introduction of new legal business models, subject to regulation by the new Authority. Lawyers will be able to avail of the new legal business models as a matter of law and to operate them freely. As a result of the bill, lawyers should enjoy more options in terms of career path and specialisation and their clients will have greater choice of services too. Legal partnerships between solicitors and barristers or between barristers and barristers will be introduced in the first year of the new Authority being established, following an initial six-month consultation.
· Allow for the introduction of Limited Liability Partnerships that will provide greater flexibility to legal firms or sole practitioners in terms of possible mergers and strategic business alliances.
· Provide a pathway to the introduction, on foot of a formal research project and public consultations, of Multi-Disciplinary Practices whereby services can be provided at more competitive cost to consumers by legal and non-legal service providers together.
· Introduce reforms to the Senior Counsel title which can also be conferred on duly qualified solicitors – for the first time this is set out in legislation.
· Introduce pre-action protocols in medical negligence cases with the ain of encouraging resolution of inquiries or allegations relating to clinical negligence with a view to reducing the need to go to court.
· Reform the regulation of Legal Services Advertising, with regulation being undertaken by the new Authority rather than by the professional bodies themselves.
· Set-out a programme of work for the initial years of the new Authority to pave the way for future reforms to build further on the regulatory regime being put in place under this Bill. These cover:
o admission policies of legal professions;
o education and training for legal practitioners;
o unification of the solicitors’ and barristers’ professions;
o public consultations on the operation of Legal Partnerships; Multi-Disciplinary Practices; barristers holding of clients’ monies; and barristers receiving direct instructions from lay clients in contentious matters.
Minister Fitzgerald concluded by thanking the officials of her Department and of the Offices of the Attorney General and of Parliamentary Counsel for their dedicated, painstaking and diligent work in preparing this comprehensive body of reforming legislation.