Solicitors (Amendment) Bill, 1994: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The purpose of this Bill is to amend and extend the Solicitors Acts, 1954 and 1960, and to provide for related matters.

The principal legislation relating to the profession dates from 1954. A further Act in 1960 was necessary mainly as a result of a decision of the Supreme Court that disciplinary powers conferred on the Incorporated Law Society by the 1954 Act were unconstitutional. In 1991 a Bill was introduced amending the 1954 and 1960 Acts. That Bill lapsed, however, on the dissolution of the 26th Dáil.

The 1994 Bill is a major reforming measure which is intended to provide a modern framework for the solicitors' profession. Many former Ministers undertook to introduce legislation amending the Solicitors Acts but I am pleased to have the opportunity of bringing this legislation before the House.

This Bill was introduced against a background where there has been persistent public concern about the way in which complaints concerning solicitors are dealt with by the Incorporated Law Society and about the difficulties in obtaining redress against solicitors for negligence, shoddy work and over-charging. The Bill meets the commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government to provide greater protection for clients of solicitors. It also takes account of a number of recommendations made by the former Fair Trade Commission.

The aims of the Bill are to ensure that clients of solicitors are better protected by the law in their dealings with solicitors, that the profession maintains the highest standards of conduct and a rigorous disciplinary system and that training and educational arrangements for solicitors are updated and improved.

Overall, the Bill proposes a wide-ranging reform of the law relating to solicitors which involves almost every aspect of the regulatory framework of the profession. One of the major areas of reform is based on the recognition of the rights of the consumer of legal services provided by solicitors. The uppermost concern in framing these measures is to ensure that consumers of legal services are fully protected by law in their dealings with solicitors.

The concept of consumers' rights was not generally recognised in legislation when the earlier Solicitors Acts were framed. There is today, however, a substantial body of consumer law and I want to ensure that the legislation which forms the basis for the regulation of the solicitors' profession reflects that positive development.

There are several measures in this Bill to protect the consumer. Solicitors' clients will have a right of redress where a solicitor provides inadequate services or where charges for services are excessive. There will be new requirements to ensure that solicitors are fully insured against damages awarded to clients arising from negligence on the part of solicitors. The powers of the Incorporated Law Society and the High Court to intervene in the practice of a solicitor in the interests of clients are also being increased. Clients will be entitled to clear information about the cost of a solicitor's services while undesirable charging practices are being prohibited. Criminal offences and tough penalties are provided where solicitors breach new tighter controls on handling clients' funds.

One of the most significant provisions is setting up a scheme for the investigation of complaints by an independent adjudicator about the Incorporated Law Society's handling of complaints about solicitors.

Part V contains major reforms reflecting the need to update and streamline the training and educational provisions of the existing legislation. The Bill comprehensively amends the society's functions in this area.

I now propose to turn to some of the more significant proposals for reform in these main areas. I want to deal first with those measures designed to strengthen the protection for members of the public who engage the services of solicitors.

The Incorporated Law Society will have new powers under section 8 to impose sanctions on solicitors who are found to have provided inadequate or shoddy services. The society will be empowered to limit the costs which a solicitor may recover from a client or require a solicitor to refund costs paid by a client and to rectify any error at the solicitor's expense arising from the inadequate services. Section 9 will empower the society to order solicitors, who are found to have charged excessive fees, to refund fees paid by their clients or to waive the right to recover costs.

These sections will provided a speedy and inexpensive remedy for many complaints against solicitors without affecting a client's right to seek redress through the courts.

Section 10 empowers the society to require a solicitor to produce any document relating to a complaint made against him or her which the society is investigating.

It is desirable that the exercise of the new powers being conferred on the society by sections 8, 9 and 10 should be capable of being appealed to protect the legal rights of solicitors and section 11 gives solicitors that right. Under section 12 the society will have new powers to enable it recover from a solicitor some of the costs — up to £1,000 — that it may incur in investigating complaints made under sections 8 or 9.

It is necessary to provide for further stronger measures to improve public confidence in the manner in which complaints about solicitors are handled. This is in response to public concern about the lack of an effective and transparent system for dealing with complaints against solicitors and, in particular, the absence of any public involvement in the process. To address this, section 15 of the Bill provides for the establishment of an independent adjudicator to investigate complaints about the society's handling of complaints against solicitors. The adjudicator will have wide powers, including the power to fully reinvestigate the original complaint made to the society about a solicitor, if the adjudicator is dissatisfied with the society's investigation of any complaint made to it.

The consent of the Minister for Justice will be required for the appointment of the adjudicator who, it is specifically provided, will be independent in carrying out his or her functions. It is also provided that the adjudicator must not be a practising solicitor, a member of the society or practising barrister. The adjudicator will be required to report to the Minister and these reports will be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.

I know the society is not opposed to the appointment of an independent adjudicator. It is, however, opposed to funding the scheme but the introduction of an adjudicator is necessary because of the failure of the solicitors' profession to live up to its responsibilities of self-regulation. The system for disciplining solicitors no longer commands complete public confidence. While I expect the cost of funding this new complaints scheme will be modest, it is wholly inappropriate to impose on the taxpayer for this purpose. I feel strongly that the profession should bear the cost involved and this is provided for in section 15.

A further measure intended to improve public confidence in the profession's disciplinary system is contained in section 16 which provides for the appointment, for the first time, of up to five lay members nominated by the Minister to the Disciplinary Committee of the High Court, to represent the interests of the general public. This committee, which from now on will be known as the Disciplinary Tribunal, is appointed by the President of the High Court and is responsible for conducting inquiries into allegations against solicitors of misconduct.

Under section 17 the disciplinary tribunal will be empowered to impose limited penalties where it finds that a solicitor has been guilty of misconduct. These new powers, recommended by the Fair Trade Commission, will enable the tribunal to dispose of some less serious cases of misconduct, without involving High Court proceedings which are necessary under the present legislation. I referred earlier to the Supreme Court decision in the "Solicitors Act" case that powers conferred on the Incorporated Law Society by the 1954 Act were unconstitutional. I am advised that the new powers now being conferred on the disciplinary tribunal under section 17 will not breach the constitutional requirements laid down in that case.

Section 18 extends the existing powers of the High Court to impose penalties on solicitors where the disciplinary tribunal report a finding of misconduct against a solicitor.

Under the provisions of section 22, the Incorporated Law Society will be required to publish information annually on complaints received about solicitors and the outcome of investigations by the disciplinary tribunal of complaints alleging misconduct. I hope that making this information generally available will help to improve the public perception of the manner in which the society handle complaints.

Sections 20 and 21 further restrict the employment of persons who have been struck off the roll of solicitors.

There have been instances in the past where funds were not available to meet the cost of damages awarded to clients arising from negligence on the part of their solicitors. Section 26 deals with such cases by enabling the Incorporated Law Society to require all solicitors to be covered by indemnity insurance against losses arising from civil liability claims. While I am aware that the vast majority of practising solicitors are covered by professional indemnity insurance, this provision constitutes an important additional safeguard. Practising solicitors also will be required under section 54 to satisfy the Incorporated Law Society that they are complying with the indemnity insurance requirements before practising certificates are issued to them. The Incorporated Law Society has assured me that it will introduce the necessary arrangements under section 26 as quickly as possible.

At present, the Incorporated Law Society can intervene in a solicitor's practice where a solicitor has been guilty of dishonesty. Experience has shown that considerably wider grounds for intervention are desirable to protect the interests of clients. Accordingly, under the provisions of sections 31 and 32 the Incorporated Law Society will be empowered to intervene in the practice of a sole practitioner who has died or who is incapable of managing his or her affairs through illness or because of an accident or who is adjudicated a bankrupt or who abandons the practice. In such circumstances, the society will be empowered to take whatever action it deems necessary in the interests of the clients. Where the conduct of such solicitor is likely to give rise to the payment of grants out of the compensation fund, the High Court may authorise the society to sell that solicitor's practice under the provisions of section 33.

Section 28 extends the society's powers to apply to the High Court for an order to freeze bank accounts where it believes that a solicitor has been guilty of dishonesty. It also gives the society a new power to apply for an order to freeze the assets of such solicitor.

Again, to protect the public, section 37 restricts newly qualified solicitors from setting up practice, without the consent of the Incorporated Law Society, as sole practitioners, or in partnership, for a period of three years following qualification. On the face of it, this provision appears to be somewhat restrictive but clients stand to benefit from it.

Section 68 addresses a major concern relating to the way solicitors deal with clients. This is the matter of solicitors and client costs. I feel strongly that clients should be informed in advance about a solicitor's charges or likely charges for providing legal services. At present, clients can be left in the dark about the cost of the solicitor's services. There can be great uncertainty. Often it is only at the conclusion of legal business that clients learn of the full liability to their solicitors. Deputies on all sides of the House will agree that this situation needs to be changed. I accept that the calculation of actual charges in advance in every case would not be possible particularly in contentious matters. However, these new requirements offer a very flexible structure providing statements of charges and solicitors should have little or no difficulty complying. Under this section at the outset solicitors will have to provide clients with particulars in writing of the actual charges or, where this is not possible, an estimate or, if neither is possible, the basis on which they will be charged for legal services.

In contentious business, such as personal injury actions, solicitors will be required also to inform clients where they will be liable to pay additional costs to the solicitor, over and above those recovered from the losing party. Having concluded contentious business, solicitors will be required to provide clients with details of the legal services provided, damages and costs recovered and, separately, the charges for the solicitor's services.

My intention here is to ensure that the client gets the maximum information possible, particularly at the outset, about the costs of a case and the costs of dealing with solicitors.

I am concerned with the apparently widespread practice among solicitors of deducting a substantial premium — often 10 per cent or more — from the damages awarded to their clients in personal injury cases, over and above the costs payable by the losing party. Those costs should normally cover most if not all of the necessary costs incurred by the successful client's legal representatives. To deal with this problem, section 68 prohibits solicitors from deducting an amount from clients' damages without the prior agreement in writing of the client, and, more importantly perhaps, it prohibits solicitors from charging costs to their clients on the basis of a percentage of any damages that may be awarded to a client.

Section 76, a major provision, faces up to the difficult issue of serious dishonesty in the solicitor's profession. It is, of course, unfortunate and regrettable that the reputation of the profession has been harmed by a small number of solicitors who have misappropriated or absconded with clients funds. It is in the nature of the work of solicitors that they are entrusted to handle very large amounts of money belonging to their clients. This is not, of course, any excuse for dishonesty on the part of solicitors. On the contrary, this should establish a special relationship of trust between solicitors and their clients. In fact the law recognises that there is a fiduciary relationship between solicitor and client.

Solicitors who misappropriate their clients money abuse this special relationship of trust. I need hardly state that the vast majority of solicitors are hardworking and honest professionals, and that the money misappropriated by dishonest solicitors is very small in comparison with the total amount handled by the provession in their dealings with the public.

Nevertheless, there is a problem. I know that the society is as determined as I am to tackle this abuse. To that end, section 76 creates criminal offences for breaches of a number of new requirements in relation to the handling by solicitors of clients' money. Solicitors will be required to keep clients' funds in bank accounts prescribed by the society and to maintain an accurate record of transactions involving those funds. The society will also be empowered to enforce these provisions. Breaches of these requirements will carry a maximum fine of up to £10,000. I am confident that rigorous enforcement of these provisions will significantly reduce acts of dishonesty by members of the profession and provide a quicker and more effective system for dealing with such cases as they arise. Above all, these provisions will act as a significant deterrent against abuse involving clients' money.

Section 73 obliges the society to make regulations, with the concurrence of the High Court, requiring solicitors in general to maintain clients' money in deposit accounts or to pay clients the interest on such money. This is an area where the Incorporated Law Society has taken action but I am convinced that it is appropriate in the public interest to make statutory provision for these matters.

The provisions of section 29 concerning the compensation fund will also benefit the clients of solicitors although perhaps less obviously than the provisions to which I have referred. The fund is maintained by the Incorporated Law Society to compensate for losses arising from dishonesty on the part of solicitors. Two major changes are proposed in the provisions governing the compensation fund. The first concerns section 21 of the 1960 Act which provides that any person suffering loss can be compensated from the fund. A Supreme Court decision in 1989 interpreted this as giving access to the fund to financial institutions incurring loss as a result of undertakings given by solicitors.

Section 29 will limit the scope of the compensation fund to clients of solicitors only. This is clearly right. It was never the intention that financial institutions engaged in large financial transactions, in pursuit of their own business and relying on undertakings from solicitors should be able to claim against the compensation fund should the solicitor default in circumstances in which the financial institutions are not clients of the solicitors. Banks and other financial institutions always have relied on solicitors' undertakings for purely business reasons and without any expectation that they would be entitled to have recourse to the compensation fund. Financial institutions are in a strong position to protect their own interests. They should not have to rely on the fund as a form of insurance considering the resources at their disposal and the expertise available to them in deciding whether or not to accept a solicitor's undertaking.

The second change affecting the compensation fund is the application of a cap or maximum grant limit of £250,000 in respect of a claim made on the fund. I am satisfied that this limit will provide more than adequately for the vast majority of claims for compensation made against the fund.

Nevertheless, should a claim in excess of £250,000 arise, section 29 provides that the society may exceed the grant limit in cases of grave hardship. This is an important additional safeguard for clients of solicitors. I am also empowered to increase the cap of £250,000 in line with inflation. No payment in excess of £250,000 has ever been made in respect of a claim on the fund by a non-corporate client of a solicitor. Unlimited liability or indeed any higher statutory limit could lead to depletion of the fund. In that scenario, the Incorporated Law Society could experience extreme difficulty in dealing fully and effectively with all losses suffered by clients. Clearly this would be unfair to clients.

Without these amendments, there would be the continuing risk of large financial institutions lodging claims against the fund of the order of perhaps several millions of pounds. Claims of that order would inevitably deplete the fund and it would become impossible for the Incorporated Law Society to make good losses suffered by clients of solicitors for whom the fund was designed to protect in the first place.

In 1988, the Incorporated Law Society made regulations permitting solicitors to advertise their services, subject to certain general limitations, including a prohibition on specifying a fee for services.

Section 69 of the Bill contains a provision that lifts this restriction. It prevents the Incorporated Law Society from prohibiting fee advertising by solicitors for any specified legal service. The society is opposed to this provision. One objection is that clients are not in a position to assess in advance the quality of the service being offered and are likely to be misled if they make decisions based solely on price.

The Bill gives the society powers to deal with false and misleading advertising. I have more faith in consumers than perhaps the Incorporated Law Society has. Every day consumers have to make important financial decisions for themselves in relation to services and products. Users of legal services are used to making decisions about the quality of services being offered. Advertising by solicitors of their services has been a reality since 1988 although fee advertising continues to be prohibited by the society. Price is clearly a key factor that consumers take into account but there are other factors such as the reputation of the supplier, dependability and quality of service. I see price advertising as providing further vital information to consumers so that they can make the optimal choice. I am not suggesting that it would be possible to advertise the prices of all services provided by solicitors but there are services of a more routine and predictable nature which will be suitable for price advertising, such as conveyancing and probate services. I am not aware that price advertising in England has had the dire consequences predicted by the society. In fact it is understood to have resulted in substantial reductions in costs, particularly in the area of conveyancing.

The society also suggests that price advertising is likely to expose the public to the risk of shoddy work from unscrupulous solicitors. The number of unscrupulous solicitors in the country is small and I take it the society is not suggesting otherwise in its objections to this provision. The Oireachtas has delegated to the society the responsibility to maintain a high general standard of professional conduct under the Solicitors Acts. The Bill gives the society new and additional powers to deal with shoddy or inadequate services and in general strengthens the society's regulatory control over the profession.

The society will have sufficient powers to deal with false or misleading advertising and to crack down on unscrupulous solicitors who provides less than quality services to their clients and I expect the society to deal vigorously with any such cases that may arise.

I now come to a number of provisions in the Bill which have been the subject of some debate outside this House. Sections 78 to 80 would open up will-making, probate and conveyancing services to competition from other bodies. I am a proponent of greater competitiveness in the provision of services generally as I believe that invariably the consumer stands to benefit. This may not be the case, however, in relation to relatively specialised services such as those in question. I accept that probate, will-making and conveyancing services represent an important part of many solicitors' practices. I am considering bringing forward proposals to amend those sections on Committee Stage. In the meantime, I would welcome the views of my colleagues in the House.

Has the Minister not decided already?

That is already announced.

I am not sure the Minister can change that or that he looks forward to our views.

We are not yet on Committee Stage. I look forward to hearing the views of Deputies.

The Solicitors Acts contain restrictions on the organisation of solicitors practices. Incorporation by solicitors, multi-disciplinary practices involving solicitors and members of other professions and multi-national practices involving Irish solicitors and lawyers from other jurisdictions are not permitted under the Solicitors Acts. These issues are currently the subject of debate in the profession. It may well be that clients can benefit from changes in the structure of working arrangements in the profession. It would not, I think, be prudent to statutorily preclude the possibility of future developments in these areas and, accordingly, sections 70 and 71 enable the Incorporated Law Society to bring forward regulations to provide for these new forms of working arrangements. These regulations will require my concurrence after consultation with the Minister for Enterprise and Employment.

Prohibiting incorporation by solicitors may be overly restrictive nowadays. The professions in England, Wales and Scotland are no longer prohibited from engaging in such working arrangements. Similarly inter-professional marketing developments here may dictate the pace of development of multi-disciplinary practices involving solicitors. Developments in the EU and further afield suggest that movement towards multinational practices may be inevitable. Both multi-disciplinary and multinational practices are permitted in England and Wales. The provisions of these sections are framed so that the Minister will have sufficient powers to ensure that the interests of clients are adequately protected, if new working arrangements are ultimately introduced.

The final major area of reform is contained in Part V of the Bill providing for a number of significant changes relating to the education and training of solicitors. Legal education is a subject that both branches of the legal profession are currently debating. At the heart of this is the issue of rationalisation of the present system, including resources and the structure of legal training. An advisory committee on legal education and training comprised of representatives from the Incorporated Law Society, the Bar, the universities, IBEC, ICTU, the Union of Students in Ireland and the Higher Education Authority is currently considering proposals for rationalisation. The Minister is also represented on that committee, which is chaired by the Honourable Mr. Justice Ronan Keane. I am very anxious to see progress in this area. Section 49 provides that the Incorporated Law Society may join with other bodies in holding examinations leading to a joint or common qualification. This is intended to anticipate arrangements for joint vocational training and I hope will result from rationalisation of the current position. I expect in time that suitable use will be made of these new provisions.

Changes in admission requirements for intending solicitors which were introduced by the Incorporated Law Society in 1989 have resulted in a large increase in the numbers of students being admitted to the Society's Law School. Since then law graduates no longer have to sit the society's entrance examination once they have passed examinations in certain subjects prescribed by the society as part of their degree course.

I am aware that some intending solicitors seeking admission to the Society's Law School have been experiencing difficulties in obtaining apprenticeships. This is, of course, under current arrangements a prerequisite for entry to the Society's Law School and ultimately to the profession. A number of provisions in the Bill will assist the profession in providing apprenticeships.

Section 47 allows a solicitor to have two apprentices instead of one and to have an apprentice for every two assistant solicitors. Section 42 reduces the period of apprenticeship from a maximum of five to a maximum of two years. Section 44 reduces from seven to five years the minimum period of continuous practice required before a solicitor may take on an apprentice. Section 53 enables the society to make regulations providing that apprenticeships may be served in Northern Ireland and England and Wales.

Taken together, I am confident that these provisions will considerably ease the pressure on obtaining apprenticeships. This will enable many well-qualified graduates to get a "foothold" in the profession. In particular, increasing the number of apprentices that a solicitor can have will allow a solicitor with the capacity and the work to take on extra employees.

The purpose of section 51 is to facilitate freer interchange between the barristers' and the solicitors' professions. This was a course recommended by the Fair Trade Commission. This section provides for exemptions from the society's examinations for barristers wishing to be admitted as solicitors. It reduces from a maximum of five to a maximum of three years the period of practice at the Bar required by such solicitors. I sincerely hope that the Bar Council can reciprocate to enable practising solicitors to move more easily into the other branch of the legal profession.

Why does the Minister not compel them?

Part VI strengthens the control of the Incorporated Law Society over the issue of practising certificates. These controls are among a number which have been sought by the society and I am satisfied that they provide for tighter supervision in the interests of the profession and in the public interest.

In particular, section 61 extends the grounds on which a practising certificate can be refused or issued subject to conditions while section 59 empowers the society to give a direction imposing conditions on a current practising certificate. In addition, section 58 allows the society to apply to the High Court where the society considers that there has been a serious failure on the part of a solicitor to comply with the solicitors Acts or with conditions imposed on a practising certificate. The court may suspend a solicitor's practising certificate in such circumstances.

Part VII contains a number of miscellaneous provisions, some of which I have already covered under other headings. There is just one other provision that I would like to mention at this point. From time to time in the past members of the public have experienced considerable difficulties in engaging the services of a solicitor to take an action against another solicitor. I know that the Incorporated Law Society can, and do, make arrangements to assist persons contemplating actions against solicitors, but it is more appropriate in the public interest to ensure that adequate statutory arrangements are in place to cater for this. Accordingly, section 67 requires the society to maintain a register of solicitors who are prepared to act for any person who is unable to find a solicitor to take civil proceedings against another solicitor. This section also requires the society to take reasonable steps to assist a person to obtain the services of a solicitor for such purposes.

The main challenge to be faced in framing these proposals was the need to strike a balance between protecting the public in their dealings with solicitors and providing for a regulatory framework giving the solicitors profession latitude to provide a range of high quality legal service. I am confident that this Bill will achieve these objectives. Above all, this Bill is a blueprint for reform that caters for the needs of clients of solicitors while, at the same time, it will revitalise the profession as it faces the challenges of change. The proposals in the Bill are consistent with the overall policy of self-regulation by the profession. The Bill recognises that this policy of self-regulation needs to be counterbalanced and supplemented with safeguards to protect the public interest.

Certainly many provisions in it call for change and innovation on the part of solicitors. I am confident that this old and honourable profession will adopt to the changes proposed in the Bill and will continue to prosper.

I wish to acknowledge the co-operation of successive officers of the Incorporated Law Society who were involved in long and comprehensive consultations about the Bill with my Department. I am at one with the Incorporated Law Society on many of the proposals in the Bill although there are strong differences of view on crucial issues which I have already outlined. This is inevitable given the range and scope of the Bill and the changes it will bring to the profession.

I look forward to an interesting and lively debate on the many issues that arise and I commend the Bill to the House.

This is stale and disappointing legislation. What we need is a root and branch reform of the legal profession but what we have is a Bill which has been written almost completely by the Incorporated Law Society, to quote a leading light in that society.

That is not true.

My quotation is untrue?

Deputy Mitchell is well known for making outrageous statements to get tabloid headlines. I do not accept what he said.

I will produce the record of "Morning Ireland" and the Minister of State will have to apologise to me on Committee Stage for interrupting my speech.

It will be a strange day when I apologise to the Deputy.

I will produce the record of "Morning Ireland" where that claim was made. I am repeating that claim in the House and the Minister of State——

I am not responsible for any claim made on "Morning Ireland".

A few parts which were not written by the society were jettisoned following the intervention of Fianna Fáil lawyers. It is disingenuous of the Minister to say he is awaiting the views of the House. He has already intimated to his party that those sections will be deleted.

I hope it does not unduly offend the 16 lawyers, 11 solicitors and five barristers who are Members of the Dáil if I express the opinion that the legal profession has hidden behind the separation of the Judiciary from the Government and used it for their own benefit. The continued association of judges with lawyers was addressed in the Fair Trade Commission report on the legal profession in 1990 at page 293, 16.5 as follows:

At this stage, it seems appropriate that the Commission should express its surprise at the involvement of the Judiciary with the barristers profession through the institution of King's Inns. Although all judges in the Circuit and Superior Courts must have previously been practising barristers, we consider that the Judiciary and the Bar are totally separate professions. There seems no sound reason for any aspect of the profession of barrister to be influenced by the direct participation of the Judiciary. Barristers are subject to the authority of judges in their courts, judges can complain to the Bar Council about the behaviour of barristers, and no further involvement would appear to be warranted. Nevertheless, 22 of the 53 Benchers of King's Inns are judicial Benchers, and there are 9 judicial Benchers and a judge of the Circuit Court among the 43 members of the Council of King's Inns.

This has implications for disciplining barristers and also where an individual or a company on the instruction of a solicitor appeals the level of fees charged by a barrister to the High Court. This happened in the first case heard by Mr. Justice Kinlen who handed down his decision on 20 October 1993.

It is worth noting some of the banter exchanged by the new High Court judge and some of his learned friends as this decision on fee levels was arrived at. In arriving at his decision Mr. Justice Kinlen quoted his colleague Mr. Justice Hamilton who handed down a decision in Kelly v. Breen, 1978 in which he set out the circumstances in which the court would consider the level of fees to be adequate and fair. In a detailed nine point judgment he repeats the duties of the Taxing Master and the role of the solicitor and barrister in this regard. He said: “The law as it stands — and people may criticise it — is that the fees payable are those which the market will bear”. I sincerely hope he is appointed to carry out the next review of Deputies' salaries. He went on to say:

As is apparent from the table of cases set forth by the Taxing Master in his ruling on 21 May last, the fees for Senior Counsel in libel actions have dramatically increased. They have jumped from £1,500 in 1989 to in excess of £7,000 shortly afterwards. This is clearly due to the demand on the services of expert counsel in this area.

In these circumstances, I adopt the reasoning of the Taxing Master contained in his rulings of 18 March and 21 May 1993 and affirm his decision, without expressing any opinion as to the level of fees charged.

The level of fees charged by solicitors and barristers is a source of public scandal. I wish to relate the role of barrister and solicitor to what I think should be the role of lawyer. I also wish to make the case for solicitors not just to have access up to the Supreme Court but to be able to sit on the Bench up to the Supreme Court.

In an article on 24 October 1993 in the Sunday Independent Mr. Gene Kerrigan —God forbid Mr. Kerrigan or I should pay tribute to each other——

He has said nice things about the Deputy.

He has and it probably compensates for the bad things he said about me.

The Minister of State is an avid reader of the Sunday Independent.

Independent Newspapers were a party to this case but nevertheless Mr. Kerrigan makes an interesting point. He stated: "... Mr. Justice Kinlen, the newest appointment to the bench, cracked the odd joke and the other lawyers chuckled. The whole thing started back in 1987 ...". On Wednesday, 5 February 1992, the date before the hearing date, the named barrister and solicitor exchanged correspondence. One said to the other he wanted 7,000 guineas, that is £7,350, for each of the senior counsel as a brief fee. One also pointed out that he wanted a "refresher" of 3,000 guineas, that is £3,150, for each day after the first day the case was at hearing. This in turn meant that the named junior counsel would automatically get two-thirds of the senior's fee, that is £4,900 brief fee plus £2,100 per day. Nice money if you can get it.

On that basis each of the senior counsel would earn a total of £19,500, that is £7,350 brief fee plus four refreshers of £3,150 and £13,320 for the junior counsel, £4,900 brief fee, plus four refreshers of £2,100, giving an overall total of £52,320 for a five day hearing. Who needs a lottery ticket? The settlement which was reached without any admission of liability by the newspaper concerned was heard by the Taxing Master in the initial stages. The case was then appealed to the High Court which felt unable to attach any legal significance to the discrepancy between the two sets of counsels' fees. The amount ultimately paid to the solicitors who originally wanted £52,320 was £19,600 on the settlement of the case and £3,500 was paid to Independent Newspapers' counsel. The court did not think there was anything unusual about that. I think £19,600 is probably as much as a Senator earns over the year for traipsing up and down to meetings day in and day out. The level of legal fees is totally unacceptable. The State, as well as individuals, have paid through the nose and it is essential that this House tackles the problem. Mr. Kerrigan continued:

The judge considered other high counsel fees that had been found acceptable by the Taxing Master in other cases and affirmed the decision of the Taxing Master in this case ... Barristers, he said, may charge whatever the market will bear. In a hearing that was at times light-hearted, Mr. Justice Kinlen told a story of a barrister who would look through his brief and if he didn't find a cheque he'd hand the brief back, saying, "My instructions are incomplete". The lawyers laughed.

Well they might.

The judge stressed that that was long ago and today barristers don't get cheques with their briefs. There was a titter as a lawyer joked that the day that changed, "was a sorry day, My Lord, in many respects".

The reason I spent time reading from this article is not to single out Mr. Justice Kinlen, as I feel certain his approach is in keeping with that of his colleagues but to question the approach of the Judiciary and whether it is consistent with the public interest and the removal of restrictive practices. The cosy understanding between judges and barristers has gone too far and it is time to put an end to it. This House should be critical of the Judiciary in this regard. In the Fair Trade Commission report on the Legal Profession 1990, it is pointed out in table 4.1 on page 19 that in all 100 liability claims tried in court or settled prior to hearing by a number of major member companies of the Irish Insurance Federation in the 12 months period from 1986-87, 24.6 per cent of the awards were swallowed up in legal fees to barristers or solicitors. Some Members may say that was a selective survey but was repeated in the report of the Restrictive Practices Commission on the Legal Profession. The level of fees charged by some solicitors and many barristers is a public scandal. There can be no justification for them in some cases, yet the courts, on which we ultimately depend for a decision, cannot be relied on to deal with these matters at arm's length and in a totally neutral way. We are used to the courts being neutral and independent and the Judiciary have served this country well however, it is time that in the public interest they gave up the ultimate responsibility for deciding on levels of fees. An independent, non-legal person should be the final arbiter — perhaps this is a role for the Director of Consumer Affairs or some such person.

Lawyers tend to come from a certain background from whose ranks judges come, a select and smug group who see themselves as a special category, although most are honourable people who work with dignity. This separateness and smugness has been underlined by one branch of the legal profession in particular, barristers. The continued use of wigs and gowns in court cases is a contributory factor. Pages 309, 17.47 of the Fair Trade Commission report states:

While the wearing of wigs and gowns in court by barristers is a peripheral issue to our study, it is important to some people. The Commission does not believe that the wearing of wigs, in particular, adds to the formality and the solemnity of the court, rather the reverse, and it considers wigs to be anachronistic, unnecessary and, possibly, intimidatory. Insofar as they convey a degree of anonymity to baristers, we consider this to be contrary to our recommendations concerning a closer relationship between barrister and client. Wigs differentiate between solicitors and barristers in court, and may, to a small degree, inhibit solicitors from representing their clients more frequently. Since both judges and barristers wear wigs, this may convey the impression of an association and a community of interest between the two. We consider it would be a sensible move towards a more modern profession if barristers no longer wore wigs.

I could not put the case more eloquently. I intend to introduce the following amendment on Committee Stage:

Section 4: (1) All court proceedings shall be as informal as is practicable and consistent with the administration of justice. (2) Neither judges sitting in the courts nor barristers and solicitors appearing in such courts, shall wear wigs or gowns. (3) The provisions of this section shall apply to the District Court, the Circuit Court, the High Court, the Supreme Court and all such courts and tribunals constituted under the laws of the State.

Do we need two separate groups of lawyers? Is the public interest best served by continuing the existing professions? It continues to be a strict rule of the Bar Council that, in almost all cases, with the exception of where an opinion is sought or where professionals such as accountants are allowed access to barristers for a briefing, a barrister may not act except on the instruction of a solicitor. Why should the Bar Council be allowed to continue this practice? Are these not matters that should be set down by the Legislature and not by the Bar Council or any other body? The Restrictive Practices Commission believes "that there should be no rule limiting direct access which is collectively enforced". It recommends on page 315 that "whether a solicitor is involved or not, there should be a direct contractual relationship between the barrister and the client".

In the Bill there is provision for the public to make complaints and take proceedings against solicitors. Why should barristers be free from this same remedy? It is time that the nonsensical and unnecessary differences between the two branches of the profession were eliminated and to consider the fusion of these professions into one profession of lawyer which would include training as well as practising law. This process would be helped by the appointment of solicitors to the Bench of every court up to the Supreme Court. I suspect that one of the reasons wigs and gowns are retained is to continue to distinguish between barristers and solicitors and to keep the latter out of the higher courts. If solicitors are capable of arguing their case as far as the Supreme Court, as they have been since the Courts Act, 1971, they should be allowed to sit on the Bench of the same courts. It would expedite the fusion of the professions if the restrictive practice of access to barristers via solicitors was eliminated by law.

Lawyers are not the only persons who should be given the right of address in the courts. There is no reason an accountant or an associate of the Institute of Taxation, for example, should not be allowed the right of audience in tax cases on appeal from the appeals commissioners not only in the Circuit Court but in the High Court and Supreme Court.

It is time we considered the introduction of lay magistrates in the District Court. Judges have never lived in inner city flat complexes, for example, where people are terrorised every day. They are administering justice from an ill-informed point of view. If one or two criminals or drug pushers are intimidating 300 to 400 tenants in a local authority flat complex the entire complex can quickly become run down. This is the reality of life in the 10,000 inner city flats.

Although the local authority must give many warnings before issuing an eviction notice and taking the tenant to court, judges often demand four independent witnesses before they will act. Since tenants are being intimidated it is almost impossible to find witnesses in most cases. As a consequence committees of local people are taking the law into their own hands. This is a dangerous development. We should consider allowing trained local people to sit on magistrates benches and hear offences with the advice and assistance of a lawyer. This is an innovation worth examining.

I express concern at the dual role of the Law Society which is both a trade union or association representing solicitors and a body which is being conferred with certain duties to protect the public. There is a conflict of interest. This worked in favour of solicitors in the past and there is no indication that there will be any change in the future so far as the Law Society is concerned although the independent adjudicator provisions, if strengthened, could be of great benefit.

The role of protector of lawyer's clients should be taken from the Law Society and given to an independent body which should have the right to hear complaints about solicitors and barristers. At least one solicitor has expressed the view in this House that the duality of roles is not in the interest of the public and is causing increasing concern within the solicitors' profession. I will be seeking greater independence for the independent adjudicator and have serious doubts about such a person being funded entirely and directly by the Law Society.

While I do not have any reservations about multi-disciplinary arrangements involving solicitors and non-solicitors, I have reservations about such an arrangement involving limited liability. I will be seeking assurance about this provision.

I also have reservations about section 29 (6) under which a limit of £250,000 on a grant from the compensation fund will apply and note that section 30 does not contain a provision similar to the one contained in section 29 (7) under which the Minister will be allowed to vary the amount by regulations to take account of changes in the value of money. Section 30 should contain a similar provision in relation to the specified amount of £1 million. The Minister of State said that an amount in excess of £250,000 is rarely awarded to an individual — he excluded institutions — and asked what is the problem.

As a Deputy who strongly supports the development of the Irish language, I see no purpose being served in compelling solicitors to pass a test in Irish. It would be better if the Law Society maintained a roll of solicitors who are prepared to work through the first language.

We should ask ourselves why a Bill regulating the profession of solicitor which consists of 83 sections is being addressed in such detail when there are no similar regulations applying to the profession of barrister. This is an extraordinary contradiction. I will return to many of these points on Committee Stage.

We need to reform the Courts Bill. In 1986 I introduced the Courts (Administration) Reform Bill, the purpose of which was to provide for the better administration and organisation of the functions of the courts. The Bill provided for the establishment of a courts commission and for the amalgamation of the legal profession, with entry being controlled by the courts commission. An ombudsman was to be empowered to hear complaints against all lawyers and make recommendations to the judicial members, to be known as the law commission, of the courts commission. The law commission was to be required to establish sentencing guidelines for the Judiciary while a sub-committee of the courts commission, to be known as the long sentence review committee, was to review all long sentences of imprisonment after five years. The courts commission was to be the rule-making body for the courts. It was to have a role in the appointment of members of the Judiciary and developing a judicial career structure and was to provide suitable training for the Judiciary.

The Bill also provided for the improvement of administrative arrangements by changes in the system of on-the-spot fines, requiring the court to be notified of settlements in advance of the court hearing and greater use of agreed written evidence. The aim of the Bill was to provide, in so far as was consistent with the Constitution, for the responsibility for the administration of justice to be vested in one organisation, namely, the courts commission.

Some of the changes I proposed in 1986 have been made but more are necessary. Section 1 (1) provided that a courts commission be established after the commencement of the Bill on a date to be nominated by the Minister for Justice. Subsection (2) provided that the commission would have overall responsibility for the administration and organisation of the courts and would carry out a regular review of the need for reform in the courts. Subsection (3) provided that the commission would be comprised of the Chief Justice; the Presidents of the High Court, Circuit Court and District Court; representatives of the legal professions; representatives from the legal academic field; a representative from each of the Departments of Justice, Finance and the Public Service; a Member of Dáil Éireann and a Member of Seanad Éireann, one of whom was to be chairman of the commission but neither of whom was to be a Minister or Minister of State. Subsection (4) provided that financial responsibility and accountability for expenditure in the courts area, apart from payment of judges' salaries from the Central Fund, should be vested in a chief executive. The commission was to report annually to the Oireachtas on its activities and make such special reports as it considered necessary. This was a far seeing Bill and many of its proposals have come to fruition in another jurisdiction.

Section 2 provided for the amalgamation of the two legal professions of solicitor and barrister into a unified legal profession. The courts commission was to be the body responsible for controlling entry into the profession. It was also to be responsible for setting standards for administration to professional education courses for training as lawyers.

Section 3 provided for a means of considering complaints against lawyers. The ombudsman was to be empowered to hear complaints against all lawyers. We should consider following this format. The ombudsman was to be empowered to carry out an investigation into any complaints and submit a report making such recommendations as he considered appropriate to the judicial members, to be known as the Law Commission, of the Courts Commission, not to the Incorporated Law Society or the Bar Council.

Section 4 of that Bill provided that the Law Commission, that is the judicial members of the Courts Commission, were required to establish comprehensive guidelines of the sentences to be imposed in all indictable crimes. In the normal course of events judges were to be expected to impose sentences within the guidelines established by the Law Commission and to state their reasons if they imposed sentences outside the guidelines. The defence was to have a right of appeal against sentences above the guidelines and the prosecution the right of appeal against sentences below the guidelines.

Section 5 established a Long Sentence Review Committee which is now meeting under Whitaker. Section 6 provided that the Courts Commission was to be the body responsible for making representations to the Minister for Justice for Rules of Court. Section 7 provided for a method of appointment to the Judiciary. There were to be two separate methods, namely, career judges and direct appointments. All lawyers with ten or more years experience were to be eligible for appointment to any court. The Courts Commission was to be empowered to make recommendations to the Minister for Justice on the filling of any judicial vacancy. The Courts Commission was to be empowered to make recommendations to the Minister for Justice on the making of recommendations for a career Judiciary. In addition, the section provided that judges may be appointed for a fixed period of time rather than until retiring age.

Section 8 provided that all appointees to judicial posts should undergo suitable training on appointment and it was to be a function of the Courts Commission to provide such training. Section 9 provided that the Courts Commission may make recommendations to the Minister for Justice for the extension of on-the-spot fines and other minor fines. Subsection (2) provided that in the event of non-payment of on-the-spot fines within three weeks the fine should be doubled, and if a summons is issued and there is a conviction the fine should be trebled and court costs added to the fine. Subsection (3) provided that the Courts Commission should make recommendations about the operation of on-the-spot fines.

Section 10 provided that in civil litigation notifications of settlements must reach the courts at least three weeks before the day on which the case is scheduled for hearing. Subsection (2) of that section provided that litigants who failed to settle prior to that deadline but who did so before the actual hearing of the action should be liable for the full court costs arising out of the delay in the settlement.

Section 11 provided that in any civil proceedings a written statement by any person should, subject to specific provisions contained in the section, be admissible as evidence to like extent as oral evidence to the same effect by that person. Subsection (2) stated the conditions under which evidence is admissible. In particular there was to be no objection from the other party. A similar provision already exists in the Criminal Justice Act, 1984.

I wanted to read that onto the record because what we need is a law reform Bill, a Bill to reform both elements of the legal profession and the courts, not a solicitors Bill which, in many ways, ties down the solicitors profession, does little for the client and lets barristers off scotfree. I will return to many of these issues on Committee Stage.

On behalf of my party I welcome this Bill. It has been commented in the media that this Bill which substantially reflects measures introduced under the 1991 Bill is Law Society-driven. Having read and considered the Bill, I see it as consumer-driven. We should be open to full consultation with the Incorporated Law Society or the banks in order to reflect their concerns about this Bill because the measures in it will fundamentally impact on the practices of its members. We should at all times be able to cast a cold eye on those submissions, implement those which are in the best interests of society and critically assess those other recommendations which might be based purely on the vested interests of those professions.

The purpose of the Bill is to effect a major reform of the law relating to solicitors. The legal profession has been much criticised, but politicians are equally criticised, so we have that in common. I should say that I am not a solicitor and have never practised as a solicitor, although I did read law in Trinity College.

The Bill introduces new procedures for dealing with complaints against solicitors, an area of general concern to the public for many years. There is an unequal relationship between a solicitor and his or her client and lay persons may find themselves intimidated by a basic lack of knowledge which they feel prevents them taking issue with their solicitor either on the conduct of proceedings or on the costs charged. For this reason it is appropriate that we are now tilting the balance of the law in favour of the client as a consumer of the service.

The Bill also increases the Law Society's powers to intervene in solicitors' practices and the High Court's supervisory functions over the profession. This is an area in which I have great interest and the proposal to amend the society's function relating to the education and training of young solicitors is very important.

The genesis of this legislation was in 1984 when the Minister for Industry, Trade, Commerce and Tourism at the time requested the Restrictive Practices Commission—ultimately the Fair Trade Commission — to undertake a wide-ranging study under section 12 of the Restrictive Practices Act. This looked into certain professional bodies and analogous services. The Minister was particularly concerned with practices which led to increased costs to consumers and which curtailed or limited employment opportunities within those professions. In the case of the legal profession the Commission considered that it would be more practical to undertake a study in a single stage rather than in several stages. A comprehensive report was ultimately published in April 1990.

It is regrettable that we are only dealing with those aspects that relate to the solicitors profession and it is stated in the report that the fact that we are not dealing with the Bar indicates that very little ground has been ceded on the possible fusion of the two professions. We are here to deal with solicitors and the other element of the profession will have to be left to another day. Perhaps it would have been better to deal with the two professions at the one time. However, this is a comprehensive Bill and we will have enough on our plate dealing with it on Committee Stage.

Central to the report of the Commission was that the Incorporated Law Society or the Bar Council should be requested to delete certain clauses from their rules or codes of conduct, failing which a restrictive practices order could be introduced which would make such clauses illegal. It also provided that a legal ombudsman should have powers to prosecute solicitors on behalf of clients. An interesting recommendation of the Fair Trade Commission was that the Irish language requirement should be removed by a revocation of the Legal Practitioners Qualification Act, 1929 and that there should be a statutory obligation placed on the Bar Council to arrange representation for persons who wish to present a case through the medium of Irish. It also recommended that there should be a direct contractual relationship between a barrister and a client whether or not a solicitor is involved. Various other recommendations were made and only some of them are incorporated in this legislation.

I read the debate which took place in 1991 when there was no time limit on Deputies. There was a lengthy debate on all aspects of the Bill and a special committee of the House debated it. Much intellectual investment has brought us to this point and more work will have to be done on Committee Stage. It is not possible to deal with many of the sections now but I wish to comment on several aspects of the Bill.

Part III of the Bill deals with disciplinary matters and will be welcomed by the general public because it provides for the investigation of complaints about inadequate services, not only in relation to possible negligence, but also to shoddy work and complaints about clients not receiving notice of the excessive fees charged by solicitors. Another important aspect relates to the appointment of lay members to the disciplinary tribunal and confers powers on that tribunal to summon witnesses, take evidence and impose sanctions in cases of misconduct. It also provides for the publication of information on complaints received by the Law Society. There is a range of measures in the legislation, the main priority of which is the protection of the consumer as a client of a solicitor.

Who will pay for the measures proposed in the Bill? For example, have the costs of the proposed internal audit been assessed? There is a danger that the costs involved in the three areas of redress, namely, complaints to the new Ombudsman, the taxing of Bills and complaints about the negligence of solicitors could turn out to be uncontrollable. What are the Minister's views in that regard? Is it envisaged that the Law Society will pick up the Bill or will the Government provide funding? It is proposed that the State should take over the payment of the Ombudsman, but I would like the Minister's view in that regard. I am sure the matter will lead to some argument.

If the profession is allowed to be self-regulatory it probably should foot the bill for the protection of the client. The Ombudsman is required to be a non-legal person, but he or she would at least have to have an understanding of legal machinery. The requirement of a non-legal background is included to ensure that the process is seen to be above reproach and squeaky clean. In my view the person appointed should have some legal training.

The lay assessor provided for the disciplinary committee will at times need to be legally advised. It is desirable that advice sought by the lay assessor should be sought from an independent or outside source, rather than from the two professional persons on the disciplinary committee, to ensure that he or she is not steamrolled into accepting their view.

Part IV contains additional proposals for the protection of clients, including a welcome provision for compulsory indemnity cover for solicitors against civil liability claims and a new power for the Law Society to intervene in the interest of clients where a solicitor is guilty of dishonesty or a sole practitioner ceases to practice, dies or abandons his or her practice.

The proposal to cap payments from the compensation fund will have to be teased out on Committee Stage. The Minister stated that the £250,000 allocation should cover most normal claims on the compensation fund. There is concern that if there is an unlimited draw on the fund by individuals for large amounts of money, the fund could be drained and ordinary members of the public might not have any redress. Perhaps the allocation of £250,000 should be increased. This element of capping refers only to allegations of theft or dishonesty by solicitors and in no way relates to ordinary negligence claims. Section 29 proposes that the cap can be extended in certain circumstances, but the matter must be teased out further on Committee Stage. Perhaps the Law Society should also have the power to require solicitors, either generally or in individual circumstances, to produce an indemnity bond insuring against claims on the compensation fund arising from the conduct of a solicitor. The motivation behind the Law Society's request to cap this fund arises from its experience and threatened proceedings in respect of extremely large claims and because the fund is becoming unsustainable in terms of the contributions which individual solicitors have to make to it.

Part V deals with educational requirements for solicitors, an area in which I am particularly interested. It should be compulsory for all solicitors to take management practice training on a regular basis as insufficient education on how to deal properly with the management of their practice is provided for solicitors in the prequalifying stages. Their practice is, essentially, a business. Many lawyers may be extremely intelligent and have published books before being accepted as apprentices in large firms, but they can be ignorant about the management of a practice and client accounts which can lead to shoddy workmanship and give rise to claims of negligence. I accept that legal training involves many years of study; one must have a degree and then do the Law Society examination. Nevertheless, the Law Society should introduce compulsory business management training in the prequalifying stages. It should not be a small incidental module but comprehensive training. It is not inconceivable that solicitors can become fully qualified with only a cursory knowledge of business matters. That is particularly important in the management of a client's money and in the proper functioning of a credible solicitor's practice.

I welcome the provision that a solicitor may not go into sole practice until he or she is qualified for at least three years, but in my view that period should be increased. That may sound restrictive given the length of time it takes to qualify, but many young solicitors need to be protected from their own zeal in setting up a sole practice without adequate experience or good business sense.

Has the Law Society any statistics on the number of young solicitors who get into trouble when they cannot deal with their workload or find themselves bogged down in the handling of clients' money? I do not believe the profession is packed with corrupt and dishonest solicitors, but there are many incompetent solicitors who, through incompetence, become negligent and by trying to cover up that negligence, turn to dishonesty and fraud. There is a human aspect to that problem which could be resolved if solicitors, in the course of their prequalifying training, were adequately grounded in business systems.

Part VII contains miscellaneous provisions, including the computerisation of the roll of solicitors, a requirement on the Law Society to maintain a register of solicitors who are prepared to act for clients against other solicitors. That is an important measure because many solicitors would refuse point blank to take an action against a colleague. It would be much simpler for the Law Society to have a register of solicitors who are prepared to take on what might be regarded as somewhat distasteful work.

The requirements on solicitors to give clients some idea of litigation costs is a welcome provision. Litigation is very expensive and its cost is not helped by the delays experienced because of a badly funded and inefficient courts service. Funding for the courts system has been the Cinderella in terms of resources from various Ministers for Justice. Delays caused by administrative deficiencies and in an inadequate team of Circuit Court and High Court judges undermine the administration of the law and contribute to the high cost of litigation. While solicitors may charge high fees, we cannot ignore the contributory factor of the inherent deficiencies in the administration of the courts system. That also impacts on the efficient conduct of commerce and industry. If we get our courts system right and impose proper regulatory controls on solicitors in respect of costs we could solve many of the problems. They go hand in hand.

The Minister allocated £66 million to her Department for the law and order and crime package. The prevention measures she proposes, including the building of jails, are badly needed but will be rendered useless if we do not strike a balance in terms of resources for the courts system which is unable to function because of its workload. Litigants are suffering because costs are escalating and at the end of a court case the client is presented with an outrageous bill. Many of those costs are incurred due to the lack of administrative systems in the courts. The Family Law Bill introduces a range of measures to deal with problems associated with marriage breakdown and recognition of foreign divorces. The Circuit Court's jurisdiction has been extended to deal with nullity proceedings. A nullity case may take up to one week in the Circuit Court and the courts are bogged down. It is crazy that a new wave of family cases will be dealt with in the Circuit Court without providing resources to deal with the present backlog.

Many clients are upset about the cost of their legal fees because they are not forewarned by their solicitors. Costs are very high and out of reach of many litigants who do not have access to free civil legal aid. They should be raised at the first interview although many solicitors are culturally averse to talking about money. They deal with the issues and advise the client but they should be compelled to forewarn clients about costs and that there is a possibility they may lose the case. All litigants are optimistic and go to court because they believe they will win the case. However, only one person can win and a client has a 50:50 chance of being presented with a large bill at the end of the case. Solicitors should be straight with their clients and discuss whether it is worth while to go to court or if a settlement should be negotiated.

The provision in Part VII permitting solicitors to advertise their charges may give rise of concern. Already solicitors are taking out large advertisements in the Yellow Pages which, although expensive, are obviously worth while. Some solicitors may spend a large amount on advertising, in America one sees advertisements offering a free bicycle with every conveyance. It would be appalling if such advertisements appeared in the Yellow Pages. The Minister said that conveyancing services may be advertised. In the past conveyancing was straightforward but today a good conveyancer must also be an excellent family lawyer. One cannot quantify conveyancing costs until one knows details of the case. A conveyancing case may appear straightforward but may involve problems with titles, broken marriages and a whole range of other matters. Rather than conveyancing advertising being in the best public interest it may result in the public being misled. The proposal for advertising those services must be carefully considered on Committee Stage.

Sections dealing with the provisions empowering banks, building societies, insurance companies and credit unions to prepare wills and provide probate services and banks and insurance companies to provide conveyancing services have proved controversial. Much of the controversy arose following a Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party meeting and a subsequent statement from the Minister that he intended to delete those sections. I regret that because it demeans this House if the Government or Ministers issue statements about published legislation prior to a constructive debate on the issues involved. Our focus should be to preserve the public interest and seek the common good. It would be undesirable if the House was reduced to going through the motions of dealing with legislation on Committee Stage. Having considered all the options, possible conflict — or coincidence of interests as it is now called — it may be in the public interest to delete those sections, but that decision should be made on Committee Stage, not on the airwaves. I look forward to a comprehensive debate on those sections on Committee Stage.

The solicitors' profession object to banks and trust corporations dealing with probate work because such work is complex and should be carried out by solicitors. However, the banks could employ solicitors to do such work. Solicitors raise many arguments about the matter as it is in their interest to protect their monopoly of services. Their main point is that there is a risk of a conflict of interest in the management of such matters and conveyancing by banks. That is a key point on which we must deliberate.

Under the 1954 Act it is mandatory for intending solicitors to pass two examinations in Irish. That provision should be repealed. The Progressive Democrats have a real interest in the Irish language and culture but question the mandatory nature of that provision. There is a legitimate motivation behind it, to provide solicitors with an adequacy in the Irish language to enable them to handle cases for litigants who wish their cases to be dealt with in Irish. In reality, few solicitors can deal with a case comprehensively and fluently in Irish. It would be more appropriate to prepare a list of solicitors fluent in Irish who would be pleased to deal with litigation cases in Irish. It would be honest to provide a proper module for the training of solicitors. It may be correct for the exam to be compulsory as part of that module, but passing the examination should not be compulsory. This happened to a friend of mine from Northern Ireland who had not learned Irish in school before he attended Trinity College. He learned about Peig Sayers, phonetically mouthed syllables, and struggled through the Irish exam. Everybody knows it means nothing, it is a totem pole and undermines the respect we should have for the Irish language. He failed his examination and had to wait another year to repeat it. He wasted a year that he could have practised as a solicitor. It is disgraceful that the examination discriminates against English people and members of European states who might like to study here. The examination is discriminatory and should be reviewed. My resignation may be called for having raised this matter.

Two resignations will be called for.

One is no less Irish for not being a fluent Irish speaker and one is no less a solicitor for not being able to take a case in the Irish language. This is a ridiculous requirement, which also applies to the Bar. It should be replaced by a real, pragmatic and respectful course of training focused on the practise of law rather than on a phonetic knowledge of Peig Sayers.

The principle was tested in the European Court as it applies to teachers and it was found to be justified.

We will debate that matter on Committee Stage. Under an international agreement solicitors who qualify in another jurisdiction and come here are not required to pass that examination, but for solicitors who train here it is a requirement.

On the question of equality there is a very good gender balance throughout the legal profession. Women have been to the fore in passing examinations and have proved to be excellent solicitors in all specialties. As a result of very good anti-discrimination legislation, there have not been many complaints from female solicitors as to possible discrimination against them in terms of furtherance of their career. The Law Society in England introduced an anti-discrimination code to deal with a whole range of issues not only in respect of women but on general principles to be adopted by practitioners on discrimination on the grounds of race, sex and sexual orientation and disability. These guidelines relate not only to staff but also to services to the public. The Law Society there has agreed a far-reaching package of measures for implementation by the 60,000 solicitors practising in England and Wales. At the end of 1993 there were approximately 4,000 solicitors practising here. I am not sure of the percentage as between men and women but there is a healthy gender balance throughout the profession. It would be in order for the Law Society here to draw up guidelines similar to those applying in Britain.

One aspect relating to women in law must be raised, that is the question of maternity rights. We have excellent maternity legislation to deal with employees. As is the case with all employees, solicitors are entitled to maternity leave, maternity pay and security in returning to work. However, no such provision relates to women in proprietary partnership in practices through the country. There are not many women in this position but given the numbers coming through the system at present, the Law Society will have to plan for protection for these women. It is important that the Law Society develop standard maternity clauses for partnerships to cover the various aspects. This has been done by the Law Society in Britain and it would be reasonable to ask that the Law Society here provide for these women. It is not a matter that can be legislated for; it would be up to the society to introduce such guidelines. The question of flexibility of working arrangements also needs to be considered by the Law Society.

I look forward to Committee Stage of the Bill. The main sections relate to the opening up to other bodies of services which were traditionally the monopoly of solicitors, and we will have to decide the best way forward.

Before bringing the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill before the Dáil the Government had an important and fundamental choice to make between the rights of citizens and the privileged position of the tiny élite who control the legal profession. To its shame, the Government has chosen to leave undisturbed the tiny privileged clique at the top of the legal profession and has turned its back on the public who needs and demands fair open and affordable access to the law. This Bill is a surrender to the lawyers' lobby. The decision to abandon key sections of the Bill is testimony to how well that legal lobby is functioning on the Fianna Fáil backbenchers.

Deputy Gilmore is the bankers' friend. He recently spoke about nationalising them and now he wants to increase their influence.

We will deal with the banks in due course. The debate on this Bill goes to the heart of our understanding of democracy and our commitment, if any, to equality of opportunity and equality before the law. This country prides itself as a democracy, with the rights of its citizens guaranteed in a written Constitution and with our laws democratically decided by a freely elected Legislature. However, no democracy can be circumscribed by the laws and constitution alone. The law is only as good as its application, and the application of the law here leaves much to be desired. Although our citizens, in theory have equal rights, in practice they can assert those rights only if they can afford the cost of lawyers, if they can afford to risk losing and if they have the confidence to subject themselves to legal procedures and practices which are obscure and intimidating.

We have inherited a legal system designed to subject a colonised people and which was never changed to meet the needs of a free people living in a modern democracy. Our legal system is comprised of practices and procedures which maintain the privileges of the few who dominate it at the expense of the ordinary citizen. Our courts are ghastly places, designed to dominate and intimidate those who appear in them. They are under-resourced and function inefficiently. At best, they dispense legal decisions rather than impart justice. A total overhaul of our courts is badly needed, as is the introduction of new court legislation.

The judges who make the real decisions in court are selected, usually on the basis of political patronage, from the lawyers who in turn tend to be a privileged cast of well connected professionals, drawn from the privileged minority who can afford third level education. In a small country this means that for the most part those who administer justice and practise the law are drawn from an even smaller upper crust. They belong to the same social class, go to the same schools, play rugby and golf together, are members of the same yacht clubs and are often from the same families. Is it any wonder they sometimes end up tripping over each other in the Horseshoe Bar on Friday evening?

Our law has been well and truly privatised by self-perpetuating cliques in both wings of the legal profession. The whole idea of having two divisions of lawyers, solicitors and barristers, is archaic, duplicates work and adds to the cost for the citizen. Both wings of the profession govern themselves in a way that restricts entry and unevenly apportions work and reward. Why is it so tortuous to become a solicitor or a barrister? Why, in order to become a solicitor, must one not only be able to pay the cost of education but have the connections to get an apprenticeship and subject oneself to a futile system of indenture? Why is practice at the Bar based on hanging around the Law Library waiting for a solicitor to hand one a brief, regardless of whether it contains a cheque? What is the point of having to wear a dandruffed black cloak and an unhygienic matt of horse hair in order to practise in the courts? Why, as part of one's education at the Bar, must one eat on so many occasions at the Kings Inns? What does eating have to with knowledge and practise of the law?

Looking at both wings of the profession, it is striking that within a profession which is drawn virtually exclusively from the better off sections of society there exists a further degree of class and earning distinction. We hear very often that we have too many barristers and solicitors. I do not think the problem is the number but rather the uneven distribution of the spoils and work between them. Many barristers and solicitors cannot make a living at their chosen profession. Some receive only a modest reward for their work, but at the top the sky is the limit. The obscene levels of legal fees paid at the Beef Tribunal exposed to the public the injustifiable fees commanded by a select band of lawyers.

The message within the legal system is that in order to win in court one must have top lawyers. To afford top lawyers one must be either rich or, if one qualifies for free criminal legal aid — the only way of getting top lawyers — accused of a crime. The first law in the legal system is that if one cannot pay one does not win. For the average citizen, going to court means putting the house at risk. This is why so many people decide to suffer injustice silently instead of pursuing their legal rights. For the vast majority of people legal rights exist only in theory as going to court is too expensive and too intimidating. Becoming a lawyer, or at least one who can make a living at this profession, is only possible if one has the money and the connections. George Bernard Shaw must have had the Irish legal system in mind when he described professionals as a conspiracy against the laity.

My criticisms of the legal profession are not directed at individual solicitors or barristers, the vast majority of whom are honest, honourable, competent and do a good job. My criticism is of the way the system works and of the failure of our political system to legislate so that people will have a legal system which is fair and open at the point of access and delivery.

It was public disquiet at the cost of legal services and practices in the legal profession which ten years ago caused the then Government to ask the Fair Trade Commission to investigate the legal profession and to report on possible remedies. There was also the problem, although limited, of malpractice in the profession. It says something about the power of the legal profession that although the problem was acknowledged by the Government as far back as 1984 it has taken ten years to bring this revised Bill before the Dáil. Admittedly the Fair Trade Commission took until 1990 to make its comprehensive report, many of the key recommendations of which have been ignored by the Government. The first version of the Solicitors Bill appeared 18 months later and even though it had been given a Second Reading in the Dáil and was in a special committee it was withdrawn for substantial redrafting. The redrafted version of the Bill appeared approximately one month ago and since then the Minister of State has announced in the media that the Government will drop the sections on competition for conveyancing and probate work.

From the first day the Bill was, as the Minister of State described it, minimalist and conservative reforming legislation. It was a far cry from the more fundamental legislation called for by the Fair Trade Commission. That minimalist legislation has been watered down and some of it abandoned in the face of the onslaught from the powerful legal lobby. It is little surprise that when speaking on "Morning Ireland" on 13 February last the director general of the Law Society, Mr. Noel Ryan, stated:

This Bill, in fact the vast majority of it, 99 per cent of it, has been sought by the Law Society and is welcomed by the Law Society, and is in fact Law Society driven and in fact very largely drafted by the Law Society, so we have no problem with most of the things in the Bill.

I welcome the provisions in the Bill which will help the clients of solicitors and will hopefully reduce the incidence of rogue solicitors ripping off their clients or badly representing them. No doubt these are measures which the Law Society and the vast majority of solicitors would welcome. Apart from these minimal reforms, the powerful legal lobby has ensued that the legislation will go no further.

The entire legal system is the one area of life most in need of fundamental reform. The legal profession is a closed shop, operating the most outrageous restrictive practices. It needs to be opened up. The cost of law is excessive and must be subjected to the market competition to which most lawyers are ideologically committed except when it is applied to their profession. If democracy and equality before the law are to mean anything then every citizen must be enabled to use the law. The class-based cartel which is our legal system must be opened up from the top to bottom and radically restructured. Legislation on the legal profession should have had that as its objective.

In its report the Fair Trade Commission stated:

The Commission considers that there is a fundamental requirement that the public should have available an adequate supply of legal services of sufficient quality with a wide degree of choice among practitioners and delivered efficiently at a reasonable price. It accepts also that it is in the public interest that the suppliers of legal services should maintain a high standard of competence, conduct, integrity and independence for the protection of consumers.

That should have been the mission statement of this Bill. Unfortunately, the Government has turned away from the basic approach taken by the Fair Trade Commission and has effectively rejected the key recommendations in the commission's report.

The first failure of the Bill is that it only addresses the solicitor's branch of the legal profession. In fairness to solicitors, their profession has been the subject of a number of Acts, for example, the 1954 and 1960 Acts. Further solicitors legislation was certainly necessary, but it is remarkable that the Bar, the wigs and gowns branch of the profession, has managed to avoid legislative regulation of any kind. The Bar, from which our top judges and top law officer are drawn, will apparently continue to operate as a club, monopolising the top of the legal system without any democratic accountability.

Why do we need two branches of the legal profession? In a small country such as ours the maintenance of two branches in the legal profession is surely wasteful of resources, confusing to the public and adding to the enormous cost of the law. It is hard for citizens to understand why, for even relatively straightforward matters, a visit to a solicitor may result in seeking an opinon from counsel. If the matter proceeds to court it may be necessary to have not just one lawyer but a solicitor, barrister and senior counsel representing the client. Even in the lower courts and on relatively minor matters solicitors are now advising their clients to engage counsel. Clients feel under pressure to accept this advice and the cost goes up. This is a handy little arrangement to generate increased income for the legal profession. Even in areas which were not intended for lawyers in the first place, for example the Employment Appeals Tribunal or the Rent Tribunal, it is not now uncommon to find both arms of the legal profession representing the one client and maximising their take from the case.

The two arms of the legal profession should be fused into a single modern body of lawyers. This legislation should have begun that process. In fairness to it, the Fair Trade Commission did not specifically recommend fusion but it did indicate that its sympathies were with the fusion argument. In summarising the case for and against fusion the commission concluded:

The Commission does not consider that it would be unfair or contrary to the common good if there were to be a single fused profession. Indeed it believes that a fused profession might, without being a cause for concern, evolve gradually over time. In its view nothing should be done to frustrate such a development.

It is astonishing that in introducing this legislation the Government has completely ignored the barristers' profession. Perhaps this is due to the sounds which emanated from the Law Library when the Fair Trade Commission published its report. The message was clear — do not legislate for the Bar — and the Government dutifully complied.

It is not a solicitors Bill which should be before us this morning but a Bill on the entire legal profession. The vast majority of solicitors who do a good job may be forgiven for wondering why their arm of the profession should have required three doses of legislation since the foundation of the State while the other arm does not require any. In so far as the Bill addresses only solicitors it is also a failure, certainly in comparison to the recommendations of the Fair Trade Commission. The intention is to strengthen the rights of the consumer, protect the clients of solicitors from abuse and establish an effective complaints mechanism.

The Fair Trade Commission recommended that the position of a legal ombudsman be established. That office would deal with complaints not only against solicitors but also against barristers and would be independent by definition. It is a familiar concept because we have an ombudsman dealing with the public authorities, another dealing with the insurance industry and an ombudsman in this area would, by definition, be independent of the legal profession.

Section 15 of this Bill, which is as close to that recommendation as we will get from the Government, proposes not an ombudsman but an independent adjudicator who will be paid through the Incorporated Law Society. This undermines the concept of independence because he who pays the piper calls the tune. The functions of the independent adjudicator are not those normally associated with an ombudsman; they are simply functions to make reports to the Incorporated Law Society. The subsections of section 15, which deal with the functions of the adjudicator, circumscribe what the adjudicator may or may not do. Subsection (4), for example, lists a number of matters with which the adjudicator may not deal. Paragraph (f) states that the adjudicator "may not measure or determine costs as between solicitor and client or make a recommendation as to the level of such costs,". Paragraph (g) states that the independent adjudicator "may not examine or investigate a complaint made to him under this section after the expiration of two years following the determination by the Society of a complaint made to the Society".

The independent adjudicator is really no more than a glorified research officer for the Law Society and its disciplinary committee. It is certainly not the legal ombudsman that the public has been demanding which would be entirely independent of the professions and which would have real power to examine complaints.

The second problem is in section 9 which sets down time limits within which a complaint can be made. That again places a great restriction on the rights of the public to make complaints against the legal profession. Time limits should not be set down in this way because frequently a person's contacts with a solicitor or barrister may take place over a protracted period and the incident complained of may have arisen quite some time before these time limits came into play.

Section 16, which deals with the appointment of lay members to the disciplinary committee, provides only for minimal participation by the lay members in the working of the committee. These sections which deal with the rights of the client to make a complaint are written in such a way that the Law Society and the solicitors profession are protected to a greater extent than the public. If the Minister was serious about allowing the public the right to have complaints pursued, she would establish a genuinely independent mechanism and she would not circumscribe it with restrictions, rules and time limits.

Section 29 puts a cap of £250,000 on the claims which can be made against the compensation fund. I accept that sum is likely to be more than what most claims against the compensation fund will be. It does not, however, tax the imagination too much to understand that, for example, a transaction dealing with, say, the sale of a farm or a business, a substantial inheritance or a substantial personal injury award would considerably exceed the £250,000 figure. The conveyance of a residential property, in the type of location where one might expect top lawyers to live, might exceed £250,000. This section has been designed to protect the fund and the interest of the members of the legal profession who, understandably, would be reluctant to make the necessary payments to enable a larger fund to be made available.

I am concerned about Parts V and VI because although they are represented as opening up access to the solicitors profession, the right of access to the profession continues to be restricted. I will be tabling amendments on Committee Stage to deal with that.

Sections 78 and 79 have been the subject of some public comment. I was interested to hear the Minister's retort when I, in passing, raised this issue in my opening remarks. It is an issue that is being represented as a struggle between the banks and the legal profession——

The battle of the giants.

——a titanic battle between the wealthiest and the most powerful lobbies in the country. It was certainly represented in that way on a television programme last night on which the Minister of State featured prominently. I do not see the issue in that way — and I have no brief to tout for additional business for the banks or financial institutions — but the idea of opening up the area of conveyancing and probate was articulated here by the then Minister, Deputy Ray Burke, who argued strongly, when he introduced this Bill in his first manifestation, that this was needed in order to introduce competition to an area where solicitors enjoyed a statutory monopoly. I agree with that.

Every day Government Ministers talk about the advantages of competition and deregulation. It seems everybody is to be subjected to competition and deregulation, from airline pilots to telephone operators, but not the protected species in the legal profession, although the Fair Trade Commission recommended very strongly that this area of activity should be opened up to competition. For example licensed conveyancing should not necessarily be done solely through the banks or building societies; it could be done through credit unions or perhaps through local authorities. However, the concept is, in the interests of the public, to introduce competition into this area and to reduce costs, the area of conveyancing and probate should be opened up and the monopoly of solicitors broken. Therefore, it is not a back-up between the banks and the legal profession. Indeed, the legal profession, the Incorporated Law Society in its submission and the Minister of State in repeating it have very cleverly converted it into an issue of the banks trying to engage in some kind of greedy grab in this area of activity. It is a very clever tactic because nobody will rush to the defence of the banks; they are probably the most disliked institutions in the State. Therefore, to turn an issue essentially about competition and reducing costs into some kind of a struggle between the banks and the legal profession is disingenuous and misrepresents the whole idea.

The Minister of State referred to his commitment to competitiveness. He referred to it more colloquially when he spoke on "Morning Ireland" a couple of weeks ago and said you can have too much of a good thing and that there is plenty of competition in the legal profession. Competition is singularly lacking in the legal profession although the Minister also stated that there was already enough competition to keep prices at rock bottom. People who avail of legal services here would hardly support that statement. The Incorporated Law Society having got 99 per cent of what they sought then, through some of its profession represented in the Fianna Fáil Party, set to work to lobby for the deletion of these two sections. It appears they have got their way.

I read this Bill and compared it with the original Bill and the report of the Fair Trade Commission. I read the debate on Second Stage of the Bill when it was introduced in 1991. When the Bill was reissued I read it carefully to see what signs it contained of the Labour Party's influence in Government. It seems to be a negative influence because as far as clients of the legal profession, the general public — that whole excluded mass of society who will never become lawyers and most of whom cannot afford to engage lawyers — are concerned there is very little evidence in this Bill that the Labour Party has done a great service in endeavouring to include measures to protect the public. Indeed, the Bill originally introduced by the then Minister for Justice, Deputy Ray Burke, was far better than the one now before us. The only contribution the Labour Party seems to have made to this Bill is so negative as to make Deputy Ray Burke read and look like a socialist when he introduced the Bill initially.

God forgive him if he looks like that.

I am pleased to hear Deputy Gilmore pay tribute to Deputy Ray Burke.

I do not often do so.

It must be the first time since he became a Member of the House that he has done so. Certainly it is the first time I heard him pay tribute to anybody on this side of the House but we welcome it, however belated.

It was a backhanded compliment; he called him a socialist.

Most people avail of the services of the legal profession at some stage in their lives. Sometimes one requires legal advice on relatively routine matters, such as requesting planning permission for building a property, finalising the purchase of a house or making a will. On a more contentious level, such consultation might arise through a civil law problem, a road traffic offence or a criminal prosecution.

Irrespective of the nature of the problem the vast majority of people have little knowledge of the technical details of the law. As a result, people who may be quite reserved about their personal affairs among friends and even family members, have little option but to place an almost total degree of faith in the competence and integrity of their solicitor. Therefore, it is essential that legislators and the Incorporated Law Society, as the profession's controlling body, make every effort to ensure that the trust placed in a solicitor by his or her client is honoured to the full.

While legislation in this area is comprehensive, the provisions of the Bill are welcome on two fronts as they consolidate a number of existing provisions while adding some valuable extra features. I should like to highlight elements I consider of particular importance.

Because of the high level of technical detail in the definition of our laws, and consequently in the everyday language of the practising solicitor, perhaps it is inevitable that there is a distance between the legal profession and the lay consumer. I welcome a number of provisions of this Bill which afford a greater degree of participation by lay people in the supervision of legal practice here. For example, section 7 facilitates the involvement of lay people in the work of the various committees of the council of the Incorporated Law Society. Similarly, section 16 facilitates the appointment of up to five lay members of the Disciplinary Tribunal. An increased involvement by lay people in these key areas can result only in establishing a more positive link between the legal profession and the community it serves.

I welcome a number of its provisions which will enable a dissatisfied consumer to have his or her case against a solicitor fully considered. For example, section 8 confirms the duty of the Incorporated Law Society to investigate all reasonable cases of complaint brought to it by an unhappy customer. There is a necessary limitation to these provisions which allows the Incorporated Law Society to label some complaints as frivolous or vexatious. It is important that that provision is used only in clearcut cases. When processing a complaint, obviously it is necessary for the Incorporated Law Society to obtain and collate all relevant evidence. The provisions of sections 10 and 14 will play an important role in this regard since the law allows for comprehensive access to appropriate documentation. The examination of complaints by the Incorporated Law Society does not always guarantee satisfaction to an aggrieved party. For that reason I particularly welcome section 15 providing for a system of independent adjudication of the society's performance in the handling of any given complaint.

The Bill includes a number of sections allowing for substantially increased fines, where considered appropriate by the Incorporated Law Society. Some of the previous upper limits on fines were of a token nature. At a time when a poor person can be given a custodial sentence for petty larceny, it is not acceptable that professional people convicted of wrong-doing should be so lightly penalised. Not only must the intention of our laws be fair and just, their application must also reflect this aspiration. I welcome the more realistic scale of fines contained in sections 11, 15 and 18. While even higher rates might be appropriate in certain cases, the changes are in the right direction. Another deterrent to poor practice by the profession as a whole is provided by section 22 which requires the society to publish annual information in its gazette regarding complaints received about solicitors. Such reports will clearly identify the extent of complaints and consequently the size of the challenge facing the profession. In the case of a solicitor being either struck off or suspended, section 23 allows for such a decision to be carried in the gazette.

If a solicitor is struck off or suspended, a number of provisions in the Bill either prevent or limit further involvement in legal work. Thus the individual solicitor is restricted by section 21 while potential employers are restrained by section 20. One must keep in mind that in any particular instance the potential employer may have at least two difficulties in this regard. He or she may not be aware that the solicitor has been struck off or suspended. The person may not be aware of the existence of the detail of this Bill. The only solution to these problems is increasing consumer education regarding both the operation of business and the protection offered by the law.

Malpractice by a solicitor can often lead to extreme hardship for the affected client. It is very important that provision is made to cater for adequate and immediate compensation for offended parties. A number of aspects of the Bill should assist in this regard. For example, section 26 deals with the need for professional indemnity cover. Increased access to relevant documents should result from section 27 while the freezing of the solicitor's bank assets is provided for in section 28.

I welcome section 29 which deals with the establishment of a compensation fund from which losses sustained due to the dishonesty of solicitors, or their employees, may be recovered. Lost interest as well as capital may be paid to the innocent party. This provision brings to mind the need for the society to deal more effectively with the many reported instances of excessive delays in the processing of civil cases. Most politicans have encountered constituency clients who have waited many years for the resolution of their legal problems. This is particularly common in the area of administration of disputed wills.

Often long periods of inactivity are combined with brief adjourned court hearings. In many instances the people involved may be elderly and have their final years of life clouded by their legal problem. I urge that either we, or the society, should consider the annual formal registration of cases which have been active for a period greater than three years. Particular attention could then be paid to ensure that all except the most difficult of these cases should be resolved within a year. The benefit of such a provision would be substantial to many long suffering clients of the legal profession.

When a solicitor ceases to practice either through severe ill health or death, the practice's clients are often placed in a highly vulnerable position. I welcome the various sections which should ensure the timely and proper transfer of business in such tragic circumstances.

I strongly support the range of measures aimed at ensuring that the education and training of our young solicitors is of the highest possible standard. Similarly the provisions facilitating barristers to register as solicitors should eliminate a certain degree of unnecessary bureaucracy. The sections allowing easier registration of suitably qualified foreign solicitors are equally welcome.

One matter which may not be adequately catered for is education. This relates to the vital need that qualified solicitors keep themselves fully informed of the implications of new legislation for their clients. It is becoming increasingly common throughout Europe for professional bodies to insist that members take part in some form of continuing education. While such involvement is standard for professions such as doctors and teachers in some countries, the need is equally pronounced in the case of solicitors. With the ever growing amount of new and amended legislation on both national and EU statute books, the continuing education needs of the legal profession are probably greater than those of most other groups. Failure to deal with this problem can only ultimately be to the detriment of the consumer.

The need to ensure that clients are not over-charged by their solicitor is catered for by a number of provisions in the Bill. Section 68 is particularly valuable in this regard. Similarly the value of allowing advertising is acknowledged in section 69. These two sections should prove to be of great benefit to the prospective client. The need for solicitors to handle their clients' money properly is noted in section 73.

The fact that a written agreement between solicitor and client can override the protection offered by this section emphasises the old warning that one should never sign a document without fully reading its contents. If a client has any further doubt regarding the matter, he or she should not sign until the matter has been clarified.

While the practice of over-charging by a certain proportion of solicitors may be due to a degree of greed on the part of the guilty individual we must accept that the ever increasing number of practising solicitors is having the effect of reducing the market share available to each firm. As a result many legal firms are finding it extremely difficult to remain solvent. It is important that more emphasis be placed on manpower planning if we are to maintain a balance between providing competitive rates for the consumer with ensuring the viability of the vast majority of our legal firms. The smaller and younger practices are particularly vulnerable.

Sections 67 and 74 contain two further vital elements. Section 67 allows for the maintenance of a register of solicitors willing to act in cases directly against other solicitors charged with malpractice while section 74 limits the scope for solicitors withdrawing unilaterally from a criminal case. These issues are often of vital importance to those with limited resources to defend their own interests adequately.

The Minister, and his team, are to be complimented on the progressive nature of the various elements of the Bill. The legal profession as a whole play a vital role in our democracy. In particular their involvement is central to the administration of justice to our citizens. I urge them to fully acknowledge the need for more justice and less law as they go about their daily duties. The increasing use of loopholes in the law to circumvent the administration of justice is neither in the profession's interest nor in the interest of the community it serves. Unfortunately this occurs too often. If this trend is allowed to continue it will undermine our process of government.

Debate adjourned.