The authority is required to keep under review and make recommendations to the Minister in respect of the admission requirements of the Law Society relating to the solicitors’ profession and of the Bar Council and the Honorable Society of King’s Inns relating to the barristers’ profession; the availability and quality of the education and training, including ongoing training, for the solicitors’ and barristers’ professions, including the curriculum arrangements for the provision of legal education and the teaching of legal ethics, negotiating skills, alternative dispute resolution and advocacy, and the methods by which, and the persons by whom, such education and training is provided; the policies of the Law Society regarding the admission of persons as solicitors in the State, and of the Bar Council and the Honorable Society of King’s Inns regarding persons becoming entitled to practise as barristers in the State; professional codes; and the organisation of the provision of legal services in the State. We are required to disseminate information in respect of the education and accreditation requirements and other matters to which I referred; to specify the nature and minimum levels of professional indemnity insurance; to establish a system of inspection of legal practitioners for the purposes prescribed in the Act; to receive and investigate complaints; to maintain the roll of practicing barristers; to promote public awareness and disseminate information to the public in respect of legal services, including the cost of such services; to keep the Minister informed of developments in respect of the provision of legal services by legal practitioners and to make recommendations to assist the Minister in co-ordinating and developing policy in that regard; to undertake, commission or assist in research projects and other activities in respect of the provision of legal services, which in the opinion of the authority may promote an improvement in standards for the provision of those services and public awareness of them, and make recommendations to the Minister arising from those objectives; and to perform any other functions conferred on it by the Act or by regulations made under it.
We are also required to conduct appropriate public consultation processes and to prepare and furnish reports to the Minister, including recommendations, regarding the education and training of legal practitioners - an area to which I will return - the unification of the solicitors’ and the barristers’ professions and the creation of a new profession of conveyancer.
By the end of March 2017, we had carried out the immediate public consultations required. We had submitted a further report on legal partnerships at the end of July and two more statutory reports followed at the end of September, which again involved public consultation exercises. The first was a report on the establishment, regulation, monitoring, operation of multidisciplinary practices in the State. The second dealt with certain matters relating to barristers, including the restriction on barristers holding client money and the retention or removal of restrictions on a barrister receiving direct instructions in contentious matters.
We also have had to build the necessary governance and operational infrastructure of a modern State body. We have terms of reference, a code of governance, a protected disclosures regime and we have produced annual reports for 2016 and 2017. We are committed to a culture of openness and transparency and the minutes of each authority meeting are available online as soon as they are agreed. We have developed and published a strategic plan for 2018-20 - which we have included in the documentation forwarded to the Chairman and members - which sets out the timeframes for some of the deadlines for meeting some of the functions envisaged by the Act.
We are still a fledging organisation. We are in temporary accommodation. We have a small number of staff but we have sufficient for our immediate needs. We have a small project team to meet the statutory deadlines which are still outstanding and to put in place the infrastructure required.
Currently, we are involved in four key projects, as well as developing the personnel and organisation structures. One project includes establishing the framework required to introduce legal partnerships as a new business model for the delivery of legal services. We hope to have that necessary framework in place before the end of the third quarter of the year. Our next significant task is to establish the roll of practising barristers. This will list, for the first time, all qualified barristers who intend to provide legal services in the State, including those who work outside of the Bar library or are in-house barristers. Work is under way on this and we hope to have the roll completed and available online at the end of the year. We are carrying out a review of section 34 of the Act on the education and training arrangements for legal practitioners. This has required an extensive public consultation, which has just been completed. We will report to the Minister on that, with recommendations, by 30 September 2018. Our other task is pertinent to the point mentioned in the letter from the committee. We are carrying out a review under section 6 of the Act, requiring the authority to make recommendations for legislative amendment as it considers appropriate arising from its findings and conclusions.
We have prepared and submitted our first strategic plan. We believe it sets out a realistic and achievable timetable for the introduction of the new regulatory regime and the delivery of the full range of functions of the authority. Clearly, there is a quite an amount of work to be done. By October 2019 we plan to have introduced the frameworks necessary for both the legal service delivery models of legal partnerships and, following that, limited liability partnerships. We also plan to have delivered a series of significant statutory reports, including a review of the education and training of legal practitioners, a review of the admission of persons to the legal professions and a review of the Act. In addition, we plan to have established the roll of practising barristers and we are working on the introduction of a levy on the legal profession. We also, by October 2019, will have commenced the receipt and investigation of complaints and we will be in a position to conduct disciplinary hearings under Part 6 of the Act.
We believe the authority, acting within the framework of the Act, has the potential to act as an agent of significant change in the landscape for the provision of legal services. Our approach will be in line with the principles set out in the Act, which I mentioned, and will be measured and consultative. We are at an early stage in our development but we intend to continue to deliver on our statutory and governance obligations, while planning and delivering on the ambitious possibilities for future reform set out in the Act.
I thank the Chairman and members and we look forward to engaging with them.