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Question

326. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when she expects the provisions of the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011 to be fully functional; the rationale for including a provision allowing for legal partnerships; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9062/15]

Answer

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): The Legal Services Regulation Bill, which was published on 12 October 2011, has completed both Second and Committee Stages in the Dáil. It commenced Dáil Report Stage on 11 July 2014 which is to resume on 21 April. It is my intention that the Bill be enacted so that the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority come into operation during the first half of 2015. Legal Partnerships are one of those reforms which have been a key part of the Bill since its publication.
As I have previously announced in my Press Statement of 9 December 2014, Legal Partnerships are among those matters in relation to which I will be bringing forward amendments for the resumption of Dáil Report Stage. As part of those amendments, the provisions of the Bill dealing with Legal Partnerships, that is to say partnerships between solicitors and/or barristers in any combination, will now be set out separately. It will be provided that public consultations on the operation and management of Legal Partnerships will be conducted within six months of the establishment of the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority. Legal Partnerships will then be introduced within six months of the completion of those public consultations. Once introduced, operation of the new Legal Partnerships will be subject to five-yearly review.
The introduction of Legal Partnerships will provide early alternatives in the way solicitors and/or barristers can work together in responding to the needs of a modern legal services market. Both are regulated professions and have established status and rights of appearance before the Courts and both are eligible to apply for judicial appointment. There is already an established, recognised and regulated system for switching between the professions of barrister and solicitor and this is something which now takes place on a regular basis. Indeed, there is a now growing number of practitioners who have worked under the two professions. The two legal professions already work closely with each other in the conduct of legal business and litigation. They have common legal expertise and competence in areas such as arbitration and mediation. Some barristers already share premises and facilities, as solicitors do, and Legal Partnerships will enable both professions to avail of the economies that can so be achieved to the benefit of both lawyers and the consumers of their services.
Both of the legal professions will be regulated by the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority and by the new conduct and disciplinary regime under which they will both be answerable ultimately to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal. Without going outside the two existing legal professions who already have established, regulated and in some cases, overlapping functions, there is a very substantial platform upon which, augmented by the public consultation process, we can modernise the legal services market through the early introduction of Legal Partnerships.