The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Michael McDowell, T.D., today announced that the Government has approved publication of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006. The Bill provides for the establishment of a Legal Services Ombudsman and various other matters including the law on business tenancies and aspects of the Gaming and Lotteries Acts.
Legal Services Ombudsman
The Legal Services Ombudsman will oversee the handling by the Law Society and Bar Council of complaints by clients of solicitors and barristers. The key functions of the Ombudsman are:
- to provide a form of review for clients of solicitors and barristers who are dissatisfied with the handling of a complaint made to the Law Society or Bar Council
- to oversee the complaints procedures in place in the Law Society and Bar Council by examining a selection of complaints files each year taken on a random basis
- to monitor and report annually to the Minister and the Oireachtas on the adequacy of the admissions policies of both professions, particularly with regard to the numbers admitted.
Both the Law Society of Ireland and the Bar Council have complaints mechanisms in place. The regulatory functions of the Law Society derive from the Solicitor Acts 1954 to 2002 while the Bar Council's regulatory functions have no statutory basis. The Law Society's complaints scheme is provided for under the Solicitors (Amendment) Act 1994 and essentially caters for three classes of complaint; inadequate services, excessive fees and misconduct. The scheme is subject to independent oversight by the Independent Adjudicator established in regulations by the Law Society in 1997. The Legal Services Ombudsman (LSO) will effectively subsume the existing office of Independent Adjudicator and carry out the same functions in respect of both solicitors and barristers with changes.
These changes include a requirement for the Ombudsman to report to the Minister within 2 years of being appointed on the effectiveness of the office and the adequacy of functions (Section 13) and also to report to the Minister on the adequacy of the admissions policies of the legal professions (Section 14). In addition, the Ombudsman has power to direct the Law Society to re-investigate a complaint if not satisfied that the original complaint was adequately investigated (Section 27). The Ombudsman also has power to keep under review the procedures of the relevant professional bodies for dealing with complaints as well as the power to examine random samples of complaints and complaints relating to specific matters (Section 31).
"My proposals for independent review of the operation of the legal professions complaints system by way of the Legal Services Ombudsman is the way to proceed consistent with the need for better regulation of the Irish system" said Minister McDowell. "Self-regulation must achieve the highest standards of professional integrity for the protection of clients. There is a public interest in ensuring a high level of confidence in the manner the professions regulate their affairs."
Other provisions in the new Bill will ensure greater lay participation in the Law Society's Complaints and Client Relations Committee than hitherto.
The legislation will also enable any business tenant to contract out of the provisions of the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act 1980 on the right to a new tenancy, provided that the tenant has received independent legal advice. "This facility already exists for some business tenants, but only where the premises are let as office accommodation," said Minister McDowell. "The proposal to extend it to all classes of business tenancy, including existing tenancies, is a deliberate policy change to meet the dynamic market economy that exists in the State. It is intended to allow greater flexibility than at present in the arrangements which business landlords and tenants choose to make between each other. At the same time, it maintains a good balance between sometimes competing interests by ensuring that tenants cannot sign away the protections at present afforded by the law without first having obtained independent legal advice in the matter."
Gaming and Lotteries
The Bill inserts new values of 50 cent as the maximum stake and 30 Euro as the maximum prize for gaming machines.
The Minister also intends to bring forward further changes in Gaming and Lotteries legislation to address the phenomenon of casino-style operations in the State. "I have concerns about the enforceability of the present law as it applies to these types of operations and the scope for their use for money-laundering," said Minister McDowell. "I am preparing proposals for changes in the law that will facilitate the prosecution of offences and the closing down of establishments engaged in such operations. It is my intention to seek Government approval within the next few weeks for these changes to be included in this Bill by way of Committee Stage amendments."
Other areas covered by the Bill include amendments to the law concerning courts and court officers, juries, bankruptcy law, succession law and the law on statutory declarations.
The change being made to the Statutory Declarations Act 1938 will enable a person making a statutory declaration to use a passport or like document as a means of identification. Currently, declarants must be known to, or identified by someone who is known to, the person taking the statutory declaration.
The Bill, together with the explanatory memorandum, is being published today on the Oireachtas website.
24 April 2006