I am chairman of the external relations committee of the Bar Council. Present are Mr. Paul O'Higgins, SC, and chair of the Bar Council, Mr. Colm Ó hOisín, a member of the Bar Council and chair of our alternative dispute resolution, ADR, and arbitration committee, and Mr. Tony McGillicuddy, a junior counsel and member of the Bar Council.
The committee provided us with the opportunity to make a written submission. In general terms, that submission sets out our position on the Bill. I thank the committee for the opportunity to attend this meeting, to summarise aspects of our submission and to answer the committee's questions.
We started our submission by trying to counter the perception of the Bar. More than half of its members have been in practice for less than ten years and more than a third of its members have been in practice for less than five years. It is a young, vibrant and enthusiastic profession. It is also a highly competitive one, particularly in the current economic climate. This has led to reduced fees across the board.
We made a detailed submission on the Bill to the Minister in December. For the assistance of the committee, we have attached a copy of that submission. We also commissioned an economic analysis of the Bill, which we will provide to the committee and the Minister. An analysis was appropriate, as no regulatory impact assessment, RIA, of the Bill has yet been prepared by the Minister. It was important that some economic evidence be laid before the committee and provided to the Minister to inform their and Parliament's consideration of this legislation.
We set out our position on reform on page 4 of our submission. We support reform that has as its objectives the modernisation of the profession and any measure that ensures legal services are delivered in a fairer and more appropriate way to citizens. Since the Bill envisages fundamental reform, time should be taken to debate the proposals carefully. There should be an informed and considered debate on each provision, particularly those provisions that seek to implement far-reaching and fundamental reforms. We wish to stress the Bar Council's position on the Bill, in that both the Bill and its analysis must be in the public interest and not in the interests of members of our profession. I am sure the committee and Parliament will adopt a similar position.
We support a number of the legislation's provisions, in particular, and like the Law Society, those that address legal costs. Generally, these provisions are in the public interest, although we have a number of quibbles with them. We agree with the Bill's fundamental objective in this regard, namely, legal costs should be transparent so people who engage barristers and solicitors to carry out legal services for them will know the cost of those services in advance. This has been the Bar Council's position since June 2007, when we required our members to provide estimates of their fees in advance.
An impression may have been given elsewhere that we object to independent regulation. This is not the case, but we have concerns about the type and cost of the regulation provided for in the Bill. First, the legal services regulatory authority lacks independence from the Government, given the extent of ministerial involvement in the exercise of the powers and functions of the authority. The Minister intends to amend the Bill to deal with this issue. Although those amendments have not been made available yet, we will happily assist the committee in considering them. More than just the Bar Council have raised this issue. As Mr. Binchy of the Law Society stated, concerns have been expressed by numerous bodies, including by some of those present. For example, the Free Legal Aid Centres, FLAC, the Northside Community Law Centre, the Irish Human Rights Commission, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and various international bodies have expressed concerns.
Second, the cost of the proposed regulatory authority is a core concern. One would normally expect the preparation of an RIA on legislation such as this Bill, yet there has been none. The economic analysis prepared for the Bar Council by Compecon, the principal of which is Mr. Patrick Massey, a former member of the Competition Authority and director of competition enforcement, shows that the cost of the new regulatory authority will be significant. We are happy to answer questions relating to the economic report, which we attached to our submission.
Third, the Bill provides for direct regulation of the legal profession, a form of independent regulation that was not recommended by the Competition Authority in its extensive 2005-06 study. It recommended independent regulation, but not of this type. We have indicated in our submission to the Minister, and now confirm to this committee, that we support the independent regulation recommended by the Competition Authority in its 2006 report.
We believe that the type of regulation proposed in the Bill is not efficient, effective or in the public interest because it is likely to increase the cost of the provision of legal services. This means that costs will either be passed on to clients or, as Mr. Binchy stated, that will be the straw that breaks the camel's back for many practitioners, particularly junior practitioners who are struggling as it is to pay the costs and expenses of practice. We provide figures in our submission which show that the cost of regulation of the type envisaged in the Bill is approximately €5.3 million to €8.6 million more than is the current cost and is significantly more than the cost of the type of regulation recommended by the Competition Authority.
Our fourth concern is that access to justice and competition will be adversely affected or impaired by the new business structures proposed in the Bill, namely, the multidisciplinary practices and legal partnerships. We believe these practices give rise to serious access to justice issues, on which we have elaborated in our submission to this committee and our detailed submission to the Minister. We also believe that these new practices, which the Competition Authority considered but did not recommend in its 2006 report, will impair access to justice and may lead to reduced rather than increased competition. We have set out our reasons for this in our submission. We believe these practices are likely to make the profession more elitist and may well be to the advantage of leading senior members of the profession and to the detriment of those at the lower end of practice. We also believe they are likely to adversely affect the positions of small solicitors firms around the country which look after the interests of ordinary clients.
We have not ruled out the introduction of these practices but we believe the Bill should provide the new regulatory authority with the expressed power and function to properly investigate and research whether they are in the public interest. If found to be in the public interest, they can then be legislated for. This has not happened and the Bill does not make provision for it to happen. It simply states that these new practices will be introduced. We have attached to our submission a list of sections of the Bill to which we have proposed amendments. For the assistance of the committee, we have drafted a series of amendments dealing with key areas of concern for us. These are summarised in the final few pages of our submission.
On independent discipline, the Bar Council and its members do not fear the introduction of independent disciplinary procedures or structures. We do not handle client moneys, have less direct interaction with the public than do solicitors and fewer complaints are made against us, largely because we do not handle client moneys. What we do object to and fear is the likely excessive cost of the type of disciplinary structures that are proposed in the Bill, which we believe will disproportionately affect members of our profession and will not be in the public interest.
As I stated, we have submitted a series of amendments which accommodate our concerns. We are happy to engage further with the Minister on those amendments and to assist this committee in whatever way we can.