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Question

114. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will address matters (details supplied) in relation to the services directive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8567/19]

Answer

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): In the interests of transparency, I wish to point out that the matter raised by the Deputy relates to the regulation of advertising of legal services by legal practitioners in the State and a possible breach of Article 24 of the EU Services Directive. Formal Notice to that effect was issued to the Government by the European Commission in November 2013 drawing attention to "a potential breach of Article 24" of that Directive. This also sought the Government's observations, including by reference to the on-going development of what was then the Legal Services Regulation Bill of 2011. As public documents, the 2013 Notice of a potential breach and the related Reasoned Opinion issued by the European Commission on 24 January 2019 are matters of public record. While the main focus of these documents is on certain aspects of the current regulations that apply to advertising under the Solicitors' Acts 1954-2015, they also reflect my Department's earnest engagement with the Commission since 2012 in seeking to address these matters as part of the Government's structural reform of our legal services sector.
As the Deputy will recall, the 2011 Bill has since been enacted in the form of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015. The basis of a legislative solution to a potential breach of the Services Directive in this instance is now provided under section 218 of that Act, the terms of which were completed in consultation with the European Commission. In its Reasoned Opinion of 24 January 2019 the Commission remains of the opinion that section 218 of the 2015 Act "is in compliance with EU law, in particular Article 24 of Directive 2006/123/EC." Under section 218 the Legal Services Regulatory Authority, which was duly established on 1 October 2016, will have responsibility for the regulation of advertising by both solicitors and barristers - thereby replacing the professional bodies who have historically exercised that function. Under section 218 the Regulatory Authority may make regulations in this area "including in relation to the information that may be contained in advertisements published or caused to be published by legal practitioners in relation to legal services they provide and any areas of law to which those services relate". In the making of these regulations the Authority must consult with the legal professional bodies and other interested parties as considered appropriate.
However, it should also be recalled that, to date, the Legal Services Regulatory Authority has been heavily engaged in meeting its initial statutory consultation and reporting obligations, the building-up of its staffing and other working capacities and the on-going roll-out of its statutory functions under its Strategic Plan 2018-2020. This is set to include the introduction of Legal Partnerships and of Limited Liability Partnerships in Quarter One of this year and the coming into operation of a new public complaints regime to deal with allegations of misconduct by legal practitioners which will be supported by the establishment of an independent Legal Practitioners' Disciplinary Tribunal at the end of Quarter Two of 2019.
Under the terms of the Reasoned Opinion of 24 January 2019, the European Commission has invited Ireland to take the necessary measures to comply with it within two months of its receipt. My Department is, therefore, working closely with the Legal Services Regulatory Authority in order to meet the Commission's request building on the previously negotiated legislative solution that is offered by section 218 of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 and in further detailed consultation with the European Commission, the legal professional bodies and other stakeholders concerned. This will include my commencement, as Minister, of section 218 of the 2015 Act and the completion and issue of the relevant advertising regulations by the Legal Services Regulatory Authority as appropriate to ensure full compliance with our obligations under Article 24 of the Services Directive.