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Question

399. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality regarding the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011, and in view of the context of a new Bill on lobbying reform, Registration of Lobbying Bill 2014, if she and her Department officials will make a public interest disclosure of lobbying efforts made during the three years since the Bill was published; if her attention has been drawn to a message (details supplied) published in January-February 2012; and if her Bill will go any way towards restoring public trust in the legal system. [49467/14]

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 11th July 2014 which is to resume in the coming weeks. 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. It is regrettable that the item to which the Deputy refers dates from an early 2012 edition of the Solicitors Gazette and is an initial iteration of the Law Society, as but one stake-holder, in response to the Bill's publication. The document is three years out of date at this stage and consequently does not reflect the subsequent development and enhancement of the Bill before the House. As the Deputy has confirmed in forming her Question, such views, like those of many other stake-holders in the Bill, are already in the public domain. They have also been the subject of firm responses in support of Government policy by myself and my predecessor which are also a matter of public record - indeed my Department held a public conference in support of the Bill's reforms in July 2012. The Deputy will also have witnessed a number of these responses first hand in the debate of the Bill during Dáil Report and Committee Stages and at the opening session of Dáil Report Stage. By the same token, she will be aware of the various enhancements that have been made to the Bill in the course of those proceedings. Moreover, having been a key deliverable under the EU/IMF/ECB Troika Programme, the Bill and its structural reforms are now the subject of a Country Specific Recommendation under the EU Semester Process.
The Bill has an array of measures which continue to support both the public interest and public confidence. It continues to provide for a new and independent Legal Services Regulatory Authority with a lay majority and a lay Chair. The Authority will have responsibility for the oversight of both solicitors and barristers and will be independent in its functions and in its appointment by nominating bodies. There will now be an independent complaints framework to deal with public complaints directly instead of through the professional bodies as happens at present. There will also be an independent Legal Practitioners' Disciplinary Tribunal to deal with both legal professions. There will be a new, transparent and much more consumer-focussed legal costs regime augmented by an enhanced legal costs determination procedure under the aegis of a new Legal Costs Adjudicator whose findings will be publicly accessible. Moreover, the Bill continues to make provision for alternative business models for the provision of legal services, including in tandem with non-legal service providers, by way of increasing competition and choice in the legal services market and I will be bringing forward further amendments to these new business provisions for the resumption of Dáil Report Stage.
It is clear from these developments and from the Regulatory Impact Analysis published by my Department that the Bill is not, as the Deputy would seem to insinuate, the property of any single stake-holder. Rather, it represents a more modern balancing of the interests of consumers of legal services with those which would have traditionally applied from a narrower professional perspective. Among the more directly interested parties are the Law Society, the Bar Council, the Dublin Solicitors' Bar Association and the Honorable Society of King's Inns. I continue to receive submissions from these as I do from other stake-holders who similarly have specific observations to make on the detail of the Bill. Over the past three years, my predecessor and I, and departmental officials, have had various meetings with interested groups and bodies. Alongside the legal professional bodies, these have included the Competition Authority, the Consumers' Association and the Committee of Heads of Irish University Law Schools all of whose views have been publicly iterated and are readily accessible on the internet. Over ninety written submissions have been received since the publication of the Bill, representing over thirty-six interested parties, along with dozens of individual letters from concerned members of the public as well as the formal observations of other Government Departments who support the Bill's structural reforms.
Submissions have, therefore, come from a wide range of bodies beyond those representing the legal professions including academics, civil liberty and human rights organisations, private businesses and the affected clients of legal practitioners. I continue to encourage, receive and consider such submissions and views on the Bill and I look forward to the Deputy's ongoing contribution in this regard. I also look forward to the coming enactment of the Registration of Lobbying Bill 2014 which, having just completed Dáil Committee Stage under the stewardship of my Cabinet colleague, Minister Brendan Howlin, is commencing Dáil Report Stage this week. These lobbying measures will be a further and welcome embellishment of the parliamentary process.