I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The programme for Government undertakes to "establish independent regulation of the legal professions to improve access and competition, make legal costs more transparent and ensure adequate procedures for addressing consumer complaints". The Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011, presented to the House on 10 October, provides the statutory framework for delivering these commitments. As things stand, these matters are either not legislated for at all or are entombed in a labyrinth of legislation, regulations, rules of court and practice directions that are not only outdated but of great mystery to practitioners and clients alike.
The Bill supports the urgent objectives of structural reform, national competitiveness and economic recovery contained in the EU-IMF-ECB Memorandum of Understanding on Specific Economic Policy Conditionality of 28 November 2010, building on the relevant recommendations made by the legal costs working group in 2005 and by the Competition Authority in 2006. Reflecting the gravity of the current economic crisis which we face, there was an EU-IMF deadline for the publication of this Bill for the end of the third quarter of 2011 which, despite the obvious challenges this presented, was met. The EU-IMF-ECB troika, whose members I briefed on the Bill on 17 October, considers the Bill to have met both the spirit and the letter of the Government's undertakings. The National Competitiveness Council considers the Bill's measures to be "welcome and overdue". The Competition Authority, in keeping with its 2006 report on the legal professions, has welcomed the Bill and its benefits for consumers.
The regulation of a more open legal profession, greater transparency in the charging of legal costs and the removal of restrictive practices in the provision of legal services have been matters of persistent policy concern. There is a plethora of reports relating to various aspects of proposed change in these areas spanning the last 30 years. Along the way, there have been a number of responses to matters raised in these reports in legislation, including the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2008 which contained provisions to strengthen the powers of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and to increase its lay membership. There have also been some changes in the codes of the legal professional bodies which have reflected elements of these reports.
However, a process of sectoral change and reform that has traversed so long a period and spawned so many reports and faltering initiatives has to have been one of grudging incrementalism. The sectoral reform initiatives of the past three decades have, in the main, been met by patchy or passive compliance.
In 2001, the OECD report, Regulatory Reform in Ireland, again recommended that control of legal education should be removed from the "self-governing bodies". It also identified areas for further reform including the removal of remaining impediments to competition among solicitors; opening up the provision of conveyancing services; direct access to barristers and allowing barristers and solicitors to practise in other business forms. In 2010, the Law Reform Commission published its report, Consolidation and Reform of the Courts Acts, which contained a number of proposals relating to legal costs which naturally augment the work of the legal costs working group in 2006. The commission's report has, therefore, also informed the more transparent and accountable legal costs regime contained in Part 9 of today's Bill.
As Deputies will be aware, the previous Government introduced the Legal Services Ombudsman Act 2009 under a model which would simply have overseen, respectively, the complaints systems operated by both the Law Society and the Bar Council and assessed, on an ongoing basis, the adequacy of their admissions policies. This model would obviously not meet the Government's commitment to independent regulation and our intervening EU-IMF-ECB undertakings and it was decided in May not to proceed with the appointment of an ombudsman. The 2009 Act left the duality of regulatory and representational functions to persist in the hands of the professional bodies concerned — with all of the working conflicts and tensions inherent in this duality.
The starting point for our deliberations is, therefore, the model of independent regulation being provided under the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011. The EU-IMF-ECB memorandum of understanding clearly identifies the remaining barriers to structural reform, growth and competitiveness in the provision of legal services to be a burden that the country cannot afford to carry anymore.
There are continuing pressures for the introduction of independent regulation of the legal sector. In 2010, there were 8,335 holders of solicitors' practising certificates issued by the Law Society, which had a total of 9,774 members. The Law Society considers there to be upwards of 1,100 solicitors unemployed at this time. Over the last three years there have been a total of 7,600 complaints made to the Law Society, with nearly 6,500 deemed to be admissible. During 2009-10, 724 complaints, or 34%, of the total intake investigated, were made by solicitors against their colleagues. The complaints and client relations section of the Law Society has experienced an unprecedented number of complaints about outstanding undertakings given by solicitors in the course of conveyancing transactions over the past two years. There were 1,647 received during 2009-10, representing over 60% of all those received. A total of 253 High Court orders were issued under the Solicitors Acts in 2010, with 117 applications to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
During 2008-10, claims amounting to almost €37 million were made against the solicitors' compensation fund, €17 million of it on the crest of the economic boom in 2008. Almost €14 million was paid out in the same period, €8.5 million of it in 2008. The net assets of the fund have more than halved between 2006 and 2011 while the annual contribution for each solicitor has increased by 75% up to €700 in the same period. The Solicitors' Mutual Defence Fund is in the process of an orderly winding down due to what is described by the Law Society as "an unprecedented and extraordinary increase in the number and size of claims against solicitors" in its 2010 annual report. An additional annual levy of €200 per year has had to be imposed on each solicitor of the society for the next ten years.
As of October 2010 there were 2,311 members of the Law Library, of whom 1,989 were practising junior counsel and 296 were senior counsel. Most barristers practise in Dublin but approximately 114 practise in Cork and 179 in the rest of the country. The Barristers' Professional Conduct Tribunal considered 43 complaints during 2009-10, 11 of which were carried over from the previous year. A total of 23 were dismissed, three withdrawn, two proved and 15 continue to be investigated. The tribunal has power to recommend that a barrister be disbarred. One such recommendation — the first ever — was made during that period although it remains unclear as to the practical effect, if any, this measure may have.
It would appear the Bar Council has no real power to prevent a barrister from practising as no statutory provision exists to enable it to exercise such power, nor am I aware of the Bar Council ever seeking such power. Certainly this issue has never been raised with me by the Bar Council. This reinforces the case for independent regulation. The majority of complaints about barristers concerned undue pressure to settle or compromise, not following instructions and conflict of interest. The relevant appeals board heard 11 appeals, of which one was allowed.
The Bill is a detailed and complex one comprising 12 Parts and 123 sections. Part 1 contains general technical provisions such as the Short Title and commencement provisions, interpretation, regulation-making powers and repeals. Part 2 makes provision for the establishment of the legal services regulatory authority, for the purposes of regulating the legal profession. Parts 3 and 4 relate to client accounts and clients' moneys held by legal practitioners and to indemnity cover, respectively. These essentially replicate existing regulatory functions of the Law Society under the Solicitors Acts 1954 to 2011.
At the core of the Legal Services Regulation Bill are three pillars of reform. The new, independent legal services regulatory authority will have responsibility for oversight of both solicitors and barristers. The authority will have a lay majority and a lay chair; the new authority's establishment and functions are covered by Part 2 of the Bill.
An independent complaints system will deal with complaints about professional misconduct. This will provide a first point-of-call for the public, independent of the professional bodies. There will also be an independent legal practitioners' disciplinary tribunal to deal with both professions which will be independent of both the new regulatory authority and the professional bodies. Part 5 of the Bill, which is divided into two Chapters, deals with the new complaints architecture. I expect to bring forward amendments on the structural and perhaps other aspects of this Part of the Bill on Committee Stage.
There will be an office of the legal costs adjudicator that will assume the role of the existing Office of the Taxing Master which will be conferred with enhanced transparency in its functions. The new legal costs regime is covered by Part 9 of the Bill which has 5 Chapters. The determination of disputed legal costs by the adjudicator is bolstered by new legal costs principles to be found in Schedule 1.
Part 10 is a restatement of some basic principles in regard to the awarding of costs in civil proceedings, namely, the court's power to award legal costs is restated along with the general proposition that costs are to follow the event. These provisions are based on recommendations in the Law Reform Commission's report on the consolidation and reform of the Courts Acts.
The Legal Services Regulation Bill will provide a necessary and vastly improved balance of professional and client interests in the regulation of legal services. It cites, in Part 2, section 9(4), six objectives to which the new legal services regulatory authority must have regard in performing its functions. Three of these are in the public and consumer interest: protecting and promoting the public interest, protecting and promoting the interests of consumers relating to the provision of legal services and promoting competition in the provision of legal services in the State. Three support high standards in the provision of legal services: supporting the proper and effective administration of justice; encouraging an independent, strong and effective legal profession; and promoting and maintaining adherence to the professional principles.
Further, section 9(5)(a) of the Bill gives clear statutory expression to the core professional principles. Thus, legal practitioners must act with independence and integrity, act in the best interests of their clients and maintain proper standards of work. Moreover, under section 9(5)(b), they must comply with the duties that are rightfully owed to the court. Under section 9(5)(c), they must, subject to professional obligations, keep the affairs of their clients confidential.
Under the new Bill, there will be independent regulation of solicitors and barristers for the first time. At the current time only solicitors have a statutory governance framework. Hence, the Bill provides in Parts 8 and 11 for a roll of practising barristers and patents of precedence respectively. An award of patent of precedence confers the title of senior counsel. It is an award by Government, being a power originally exercised by the Crown and inherited from our colonial past. No provision for the making of the award is contained in any statute or Act of the Oireachtas.
Since the foundation of the State the award has been made at the Government's discretion on the recommendation of an advisory committee consisting of four people, the Chief Justice, the President of the High Court, the Attorney General and the chairperson of the Bar Council. While there is nothing in law which excludes such appointments being conferred on solicitors, in practice in this State such awards are confined to barristers and the Bar has stridently opposed the awards being extended to members of the solicitors' profession. This exclusion of solicitors for some years has not applied in neighbouring jurisdictions. For example, the recently appointed Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland is both a solicitor and a Queen's counsel.
As evident from Part 2 and other elements of the Bill, the new legal services regulatory authority will have the structures, functions and powers consistent with an effective and independent regulatory body. It will be a body corporate with perpetual succession and seal. It will have 11 members with a lay majority and a lay chair. The professional bodies will have minority representation on the board, comprising two from the Law Society and Bar Council respectively. It will be accountable to the Dáil, including the Committee of Public Accounts and the relevant policy committee, in its own right. It will operate under the standards of transparency, good governance and audit applicable under international best practice to public bodies.
The authority will have an array of functions and powers that will enable it to engage in comprehensive regulation of the legal profession and the legal services market. Thus, it will have power to prepare or approve codes of practice to ensure high standards of legal practice; to propose regulations on key matters including the keeping of accounts, advertising, professional indemnity provision, the protection of clients' moneys and so forth; to monitor admission policies in respect of the legal profession and education or training services for would-be lawyers; to review the structure of the legal profession and how legal services are provided; to provide information on the legal services market; to conduct research into important issues relating to legal services; to help with the co-ordination and development of policy in regard to legal services; and to inspect legal practices and independently supervise the accounts of legal practitioners.
The independence of the new legal services regulatory authority will be assured by the provisions made in the Bill with the authority itself being democratically accountable including, in its own right, to the Houses and committees of the Oireachtas. I do not, therefore, accept the view that the independence of the new authority will be fettered, ministerially or otherwise. The Bill specifically provides, based on precedent elsewhere in legislation, that the authority "Shall be independent in the performance of its functions".
There is no hidden agenda in regard to ministerial functions or appointments under the Bill. That said, I am happy to invite any constructive suggestions that might enhance the Bill's regulatory framework in this regard within the Government's stated policy objective of independent regulation. Indeed, I am already considering some relevant amendments for Committee Stage, such as removing the requirement for the Minister's consent being obtained for any code of practice the regulatory authority proposes be observed by the legal profession.
The Bill will create independent complaints and disciplinary procedures under the provisions of Part 5. The first point-of-call in making a complaint about either of the legal professions will be the legal services regulatory authority, through its complaints committee. The committee, which will also have a majority of lay persons, will assess the admissibility of the complaint. To save consumers time and money, an agreed or alternative dispute resolution such as mediation can be availed of at an early stage.
For complaints that need to go the route of a hearing, there will be a new legal practitioners disciplinary tribunal. Neither the professional bodies nor the authority will run the tribunal: it will be independent of them all. There will be a range of powers to discipline lawyers found guilty of professional misconduct and the ultimate sanction of striking off a lawyer will remain with the High Court. The overall effect of the Bill will be to enhance the independence of the legal professions in the public interest.
In July 2010, the then Taxing Master, Mr. Charles Moran, ruled that a €2.14 million bill for legal services provided in regard to a workplace injury case be reduced by 82%. In the end only €393,000 of the original costs sought were allowed. The Taxing Master considered that the costs before him were "Devoid of all reality, bear no relationship to the issues involved or the nature or extent of the work undertaken or fees allowed in cases where a similar amount of work was required". The Legal Services Regulation Bill, mainly in Part 9, makes provision against this kind of exorbitant costs scenario. It further sets out, for the first time in legislation, a series of legal costs principles. These are contained in Schedule 1 and enumerate the various matters that may be taken into account if disputed costs are submitted for adjudication. For the first time, these cost transparency measures will apply to barristers as well as to solicitors. These measures will also be responsive to any significant developments during a case that may have cost implications for the client or indeed the practitioner involved.
Under the Bill the following provisions will apply: it will no longer be permissible to set fees as a specified percentage or proportion of damages payable to a client from contentious business, it will no longer be permissible to charge junior counsel fees as a specified percentage or proportion of senior counsel fees and legal practitioners will now be obliged to provide more detailed information about legal costs from the outset of their dealings with clients. This will be in the form of a notice which must be provided when a legal practitioner takes instructions. Among other things, it must disclose the costs involved or, where this is not practicable, the basis upon which costs are to be calculated.
Such a notice also has to be issued if a practitioner becomes aware of any factor which may give rise to a significant increase in costs. It should also outline the costs of any litigation that may arise or the costs of withdrawing from litigation, as may be appropriate. Clients will have a cooling-off period within which to consider the notice of costs and whether to proceed with instructing the practitioner to provide the services involved. When finished providing legal services a practitioner must prepare a bill of costs including a summary of the services provided with an itemised statement of the services and costs involved.
A legal practitioner must also provide a client with an explanation of the procedure available should he or she wish to dispute any aspect of the bill of costs, for example, by mediation, and a practitioner must take all appropriate steps to attempt to resolve such a dispute. Failure to include a charge in a notice of costs to a client can lead to its disallowance under a legal costs adjudication.
The Bill also provides for a legal practitioner and client to enter a written agreement concerning the amount and manner of payment of all or part of the costs of legal services provided. No other amount shall be chargeable except to the extent covered by the agreement. These legal cost provisions will also be to the benefit of the professions as they will reduce the possibility of disagreements over legal fees and charges occurring between them and their clients.
As part of its enhancement of the legal costs regime the Bill provides, in Part 9, Chapter 2, that a new office of the legal costs adjudicator will deal with disputes about legal costs. At the current time these are dealt with by the Office of the Taxing Master. The new office, headed by a chief legal costs adjudicator, will modernise the way disputed legal costs are adjudicated.
The office of the legal costs adjudicator can prepare legal costs guidelines for the guidance of legal costs adjudicators, legal practitioners and the public and these will be published. It must establish and maintain a register of determinations which will include the outcomes and reasons for its determinations about disputed legal costs. Contrary to misinformed comment, public access to such decisions will include costs adjudications in regard to family law cases. The Bill simply preserves the anonymity of the family members concerned but does not grant anonymity to solicitors or barristers whose fees are disputed.
In the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011 new legal costs adjudicator recruitment criteria were introduced under which an open competition has taken place, as a result of which a new appointment to that position has been made this week with a further appointment likely to follow the retirement of the remaining Taxing Master later this month.
For the first time in 85 years the vacant position of Taxing Master was publicly advertised by the Public Appointments Service, which independently assessed the 21 applications received and, having done so, interviewed six applicants and thereafter nominated three names to Government for possible appointment. The person appointment by the Government on Tuesday has outstanding qualifications for the position and his appointment has been widely welcomed by those familiar with his work and expertise. I wish him well in his position.
Alarmist commentary about the potential cost of the measures being introduced under this Bill ignores several key facts. First, the new legal costs adjudicator will, on the basis of a significantly more transparent and accessible infrastructure, replace the role of the existing Taxing Master's office, which itself generates substantial income. In 2010 it collected a total of €2.8 million in fees. Second, both the barrister and solicitor professions already pay enormous regulatory fees to their respective professional bodies. It is anticipated that a proportion of the existing levies borne by the professions should transfer with those regulatory functions of the professional bodies that are to be taken over by the new legal services regulatory authority. The Bill, in Part 6, proposes a formula for this purpose and the cost impact of the transition on practitioners or consumers should be minimal.
It is expected that this redirection of levies will substantially, if not fully, support the running of the new legal services regulatory authority and legal professions disciplinary tribunal. These are among the matters we will work to clarify further in the ongoing consultative process. The establishment of an independent regulator supported by a dedicated levy on the professions will clearly differentiate regulation costs from others such as those arising from representational functions. Not only is it in the interests of the consumer that there be a clear separation of regulatory and representational functions but it is also in the interests of both solicitors and barristers that there be no grey areas between the two and that they have confidence that there are bodies in place which can properly represent their interests.
The Bill includes several measures aimed at opening up the provision of legal services in a way that takes account of new business models and the significant advances that have been made in business technology. These are found mainly in section 30 of Part 2, Part 7 and Part 12. The Bill provides a framework for key structural reforms, building upon a series of public consultations. These will be used to address issues such as partnerships between barristers, between barristers and solicitors, and between lawyers and non-lawyers, also known as multidisciplinary practices, to be completed within 18 months of the establishment of the authority. The Bill also provides for direct access to barristers on contentious business, to be completed within 18 months of establishment. The possible unification of the two legal professions is also envisaged, to be provided within 24 months of establishment of the authority. In addition, there is provision for the education and training of legal practitioners, to be provided within 12 months of establishment.
The Bill also contains other modernisation provisions which provide new opportunities for legal practitioners. For example, it will be possible to establish multidisciplinary practices; solicitors and barristers will be allowed to act jointly as advocates in court and other proceedings; clients will be able to nominate who should lead their case where members of both legal professions are involved and cannot agree; procedures will be put in place to ease switching between the two legal professions of barrister and solicitor; legal practitioners working for private or State entities will be allowed to act as advocates in court proceedings for their employers; the new legal services regulatory authority may make regulations in regard to the advertising of legal services; practising barristers who share premises and costs as a group are to be allowed to advertise themselves as such; solicitors will be able to employ barristers in their practice if they so wish; and a whistleblowers provision will protect employees who report professional misconduct. While providing for new business structures to deliver legal services, members of both professions will continue to be entitled to deliver legal services under the current structures of solicitors' practices and through the Law Library.
It is understandable that those involved in the provision of legal services will wish to be sure of their ground and continued professional standing under the Bill. As such, I take this opportunity to encourage practitioners to embrace the Bill. It presents a watershed opportunity to modernise at the professional, business and transactional levels. Across common law jurisdictions, new legal business models are being rolled out under new law, providing additional commercial opportunities and legal career options. In a globalised world, clients can be expected to follow those developments offshore or to outsource their business accordingly. We can no longer afford to indulge a cabal of legal practitioners who want to stay in the 19th century at the expense of sectoral growth and a viable future for their colleagues.
I wish to put to bed the histrionics and the scaremongering claims that no other civilised country is taking, has taken or may soon take similar steps to those outlined in this Bill towards the independent regulation of the legal professions, including where they interface with a ministerial role. The issue here is not one of a First World versus Third World polemic but rather that an old guard wants to stay in its own world. The truth is that the regulatory regimes of comparator jurisdictions are a mixed bag which not only do not rule out independent regulation as a matter of principle but actually embrace elements of it. The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, for example, must include a majority of lay people, and appointments to it are made by Government Ministers in consultation with the Lord President of the Court of Session. The Legal Complaints Review Officer in New Zealand is appointed by the Minister for Justice there and has extensive powers to review complaints made in the first instance to the New Zealand Law Society, which regulates both solicitors and barristers. Australia is currently in the process of huge reform in this area and is moving towards the creation of a single national legal profession.
I note that on Monday, 5 December, a conference was held in the Law Society at which representatives of both the society and the Bar Council spoke of the alleged threat the Bill presents to the independence of the legal profession. There is nothing of any nature contained in the Bill which prevents a lawyer from independently representing and advising a client or acts as a barrier to the initiating of any necessary or appropriate court proceedings, including proceedings against the State or against any State agency. There is nothing contained in the Bill which enables any Minister for Justice and Equality or the Government of the day to intervene improperly in legal proceedings. Nor is there anything which enables the legal services regulatory authority to do so.
It is unfortunate that both the Law Society and the Bar Council are using the Trojan horse of a bogus threat to the independence of the professions to oppose the replacement of self-regulation by independent regulation and to raise false fears of State oppression. The approach to the Bill taken by each body to date is neither in the public interest nor in the interest of solicitors and barristers generally. While the many reforming provisions contained in the Bill are clearly in the interests of consumers, it also contains provisions which are to the benefit of members of each profession, some of which will end restrictive practices that are to the detriment of either or both.
Some of the restrictive practices that are to end will be welcomed by members of one profession but not the other. For instance, some solicitors are unhappy at the prospect of members of the public having direct access to barristers for advice. Some solicitors and barristers are unhappy at the prospect of barrister partnerships, while other barristers welcome the business opportunity and greater financial security that practising in partnership can offer. Within both professions there are some who support the creation of solicitor-barrister partnerships, while others are unhappy at the prospect. In both professions there are differing views on the opportunity being given to create multidisciplinary partnerships. Some members of the Bar are unhappy at the prospect of solicitors being conferred with the title of senior counsel, while in past years the Law Society has criticised the title of senior counsel being confined to members of the Bar.
The new business structures for the delivery of legal services envisaged under the Bill will provide not only for increased competition, which is in the public interest, but also for new opportunities to deliver legal services for members of the profession. In doing so, however, the Bill erects no barrier to solicitors and barristers continuing to provide legal services as they do at present. It is a pity the Law Society and the Bar Council have, to date, remained silent on the benefits and opportunities the Bill extends to their members and have instead been intent on persuading both barristers and solicitors that its provisions should be opposed in order to maintain the privilege of self-regulation.
The difficulty for both bodies is that their threat to independence argument is entirely bogus. Since the foundation of the State, it has been the Government which appoints the Judiciary. There is no allegation made by either the Law Society or the Bar Council that the Judiciary is anything other than independent in its determination of cases that come before it. If Government appointment of judges does not undermine their independence, how can it credibly be alleged that appointment of members to the legal services regulatory authority by Government will undermine its independence, particularly since the Bill clearly prescribes that it must act as an independent authority?
At no stage has the Law Society or the Bar Council alleged that the State or State agencies seeking legal advice or representation from solicitors or barristers undermines the independence of the professions. Nor is it alleged that substantial sums of money being paid by the State to lawyers under the criminal legal aid scheme or the employment of lawyers by the State under that scheme undermine the independence of the profession. It has not been suggested that major State agencies such as NAMA, the largest of them all, undermine the independence of lawyers by recruiting solicitor firms and barristers to undertake work on their behalf. The State is also a consumer of legal services and spends millions of euro of taxpayers' money annually on the provision of such services.
It is not only in the interest of individual consumers but also in the interest of the State and indeed, in the interest of taxpayers that there be truly independent regulation of the legal profession. For example, regulatory failures and solicitor negligence has resulted in substantial legal fees having to be paid by NAMA to address conveyancing deficiencies disclosed in the process of the transfer of title securities to NAMA on foot of which many millions of euro were loaned through our banking and financial institutions. A better regulatory system in place could have prevented much of the difficulty which arose in this area and the expense incurred. While the leadership of the Law Society and the Bar Council has been vocal in its opposition to the Bill, many solicitors and barristers have privately communicated to me their support for this measure.
I do not think it useful for any of us to create a false impasse or zero sum game between the principles of professional independence and of independent regulation as these are not, of necessity, mutually exclusive. Taken together, the provisions of the Bill can make the independence of the two legal professions and the independence of their regulation, mutually reinforcing. It is also disingenuous to cite international standards for lawyers to that effect as none supports the premise that professional independence means being beyond the laws of the land. I am at pains to understand those of the legal professions, of which I too am a member, who declare their superiority and imperviousness to the very standards of accountability vested in this Bill which they simultaneously proclaim to uphold. Their collective response to date has been more characterised by histrionics and misinformed opposition to the new Bill than to early engagement in its constructive development and such a response questions the very right of Government to have determined policy. On publication of the Bill I wrote to the Law Society and the Bar Council inviting and seeking their observations. I met with the Bar Council on 24 November last. I have had a helpful response from the Law Society to a series of queries raised on legal education and we will be meeting in mid-January. Yesterday afternoon I received the Bar Council's initial detailed submission on the Bill and I will give it careful consideration. By way of initial reaction, I acknowledge that it contains some constructive content but I am disappointed to note the continuing opposition to reforms which are clearly both in the public interest and in the interests of consumers.
In conclusion, I urge all stakeholders, particularly the legal professions, to embrace the opportunity provided by the Bill to bring about meaningful reform building on the Bill's balance of principles and objectives. I encourage the Law Society and the Bar Council to engage constructively with us in perfecting the Bill and its mutual accommodation of the relevant independence principles. I am confident that, along with other stakeholders, we can bring the Bill to satisfactory enactment. We have within our grasp a unique opportunity to bring the provision of legal services in the State out of the 19th century and into the 21st century while meeting the underlying and pressing challenges of structural reform, national competitiveness and early economic recovery which we face at this time.
I welcome the opportunity to debate the Bill in the House and I look forward to hearing the views of Deputies on all sides. Like any Bill of this size and complexity, I anticipate there will be technical, transitional and other amendments such as those I have signalled and which I will be bringing forward on Committee Stage. I commend the Bill to the House.