Solicitors Bill, 1954—Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This is a Bill which has the advantage of having been considered by the previous Government as well as by ourselves. But the real credit for it must go to the solicitors themselves acting through the Law Society. They are to be congratulated on their enterprise, particularly as the Bill imposes more burdens on individual solicitors than it takes away.

The explanatory memorandum indicates the main changes to be made in the present law and is a fair summary of the Bill. I think Senators will not wish me to delay them by going over all the ground covered by the memorandum and I shall, therefore, at this stage only refer to the changes which are of particular interest to the public, that is, the proposed accounts regulations and the compensation fund.

The Bill requires the Law Society to make regulations providing that a solicitor must keep his own money separate from clients' moneys and trust moneys. This is, of course, what every businesslike solicitor actually does at the present time and the only effect of the proposed change in the law is simply to make it a matter of legal obligation for all solicitors to do what most of them already do. But no system of accounting, however good, can afford complete protection for clients and that is why there is provision also for a compensation fund.

The Fund will be financed by annual contributions from solicitors. After five years there will be full indemnity for clients' losses except where the Society consider that the client himself has contributed to the loss, in which event the amount of compensation to be paid will be at the discretion of the Society. When the Fund is put on a full indemnity basis, the Society will have power, if the financial situation so requires, to levy a special contribution not exceeding £5 on each solicitor in addition to the ordinary annual contribution of £5. At present it is impossible to forecast the extent to which there will be demands on the Fund but I have no doubt that the Society will be anxious to meet claims in full even within the first five years, if it is at all possible to do so.

In conclusion, I should like to mention the desirability of having the Bill enacted before the 6th January next. The Bill proposes that on that date the Compensation Fund will be established and that solicitors will send their annual contributions to the Fund along with their applications for practising certificates in respect of the coming practice year which commences on that date. If the Bill is not passed into law by that time, the establishment of the Fund will be delayed until the next practice year comes round.

I think I am right in saying that the general principles of the Bill are acceptable to all Parties in the House and I ask that it be given a Second Reading.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an mBille seo mar is dóigh liom gur céim ar aghaidh é, agus is céim é atá beartaithe ag an lucht dlí le fada an lá anuas, sé sin le rá, go dteastuíonn uatha rialacha cearta a bheith i bhfeidhm i dtaobh conus a cuirfidh siad díobh in a gcuid gnótha. Tá cúpla athrú á dheanamh agus is dóigh liom gur athruithe chun maitheasa iad.

There is not very much to be said about this Bill. I welcome it because I know very well that the subject matter of it has been under consideration by the legal profession, the Incorporated Law Society, for a number of years. Its purpose is to control and regulate the conduct and practice of the legal profession—not, of course, that we can say, or should say that there has been anything like misconduct on any wide scale that would merit the attention of the general public.

It is always better to have these things regulated by law. There is now for the first time to be established a fund out of which clients in future will be indemnified in the event of defalcations that may be caused by the improper conduct or dishonesty of certain solicitors. I think that is a step in the right direction and that the solicitors themselves will not begrudge the contributions they will be called upon to pay for the establishment of such a compensation fund.

I see also that there is a provision by which it is proposed to exempt coming solicitors from stamp duty on their qualifying in their profession. I think that that should also apply to the other branch of the law— barristers. Barristers have also to suffer rather a stiff stamp duty and I think they should be brought into line with the solicitors. That has been done in this Bill in regard to solicitors, but it should also apply to barristers but maybe that is a matter for future consideration.

Under this Bill also it is to be ensured that solicitors will have to keep separate accounts. I think that is a very good thing. As I think the Minister said, it probably is the practice already that the vast majority of solicitors keep proper accounts and make sure to have their own private accounts segregated from their professional ones. Now it is being made a legal obligation. That, to my mind, is all to the good. I welcome this Bill.

I think it should be said about this Bill in the first instance that it is a Bill which has been drafted in consultation with various Governments by the Incorporated Law Society, but it is not a Bill for the protection of the solicitors' profession. It is a Bill for the protection of the public. Its provisions are meant to assist and protect the public and not to protect the profession. It does not change the law that has been observed, but it gives power to the Council of the Incorporated Law Society to see that the law is constantly and properly observed for the benefit of the public.

The compensation fund is also provided for the benefit of the public. Generally, this Bill is one which is very properly a public Bill brought in by a Government because it concerns the public interest. It is a Bill, as has been remarked, which can, of course, be more properly discussed in detail in Committee. Nearly all its provisions are intended for the benefit of the public and in that way it is a very desirable measure.

I suppose it is unusual for a layman to dip into things like this. It is a professional matter but Senator Hayes explained it was a Bill to protect the public. I was very pleased to hear it. I notice in the explanatory memorandum that it is a Bill to regulate professional practice and conduct and to enforce strict discipline in the profession and so on.

I had an experience two years ago where a person had occasion to report to the Incorporated Law Society what he considered to be misconduct on the part of a solicitor. That charge was duly investigated by the Incorporated Law Society. Among the charges preferred at that meeting of the Incorporated Law Society was one for overcharging. The President of the Incorporated Law Society informed the person concerned that if the Bill of Costs was taxed there was no doubt in the world but the charge would be regulated. That was very nice and the person concerned went to three different solicitors but none of them would get the Bill of Costs taxed. It was again reported to the Incorporated Law Society and while that society investigated the charges the matter still remains as it was. I wonder is there any justice or protection for that person in this Bill?

I take it that that is one of the reasons why the Bill is brought in. I agree with Senator O'Sullivan that there is, and was, a need for this Bill. Now that we have the Bill, I hope——

Mr. O'Sullivan

Will it be retrospective?

I do not know whether or not it is retrospective. I am sure it will be a hindrance to the practice complained of by Senator O'Sullivan. I think the Bill will be welcomed by people generally.

The purpose of this Bill is to regulate the conduct of the profession. Well, if the profession can regulate its own conduct sufficiently and adequately, then so much the better. I have an idea that the general public does not come into contact with the legal profession very often, fortunately for them. I say that in no carping tone at the legal profession. In the past few years an increasing number has had contact with solicitors in relation to the purchase of houses.

The experience of a lot of those people has been that whilst there has been no misconduct as such there has on quite a few occasions been neglect of duty. I am sure Senators, like myself, must have had numerous examples of difficulties in regard to the completion of the purchase of a house and in getting a loan passed. We find on numerous occasions that the purchaser is told by the solicitor that it is, of course, the corporation, the county council or the Department of the Government that are at fault— the civil servants as usual.

When the matter came to be investigated we found that instead of the Government, corporation or county council being at fault it was the purchaser's own solicitor. The general public looks upon the legal profession as having something like the same etiquette as the medical profession where you trust your life to a doctor. We do on occasions trust our money and our affairs to a solicitor. I cannot complain. I have had no instances, as I say, of misconduct or dishonesty. I am afraid, however, that there have been too many cases of neglect of duties. If this Bill and the legal profession themselves can improve on that position it will be very welcome.

I should like, in welcoming this Bill, to agree with Senator Hayes that it certainly reffects the greatest credit on the profession for having initiated it. The Senator pointed out that it is not altogether for the protection of the solicitors but to indemnify clients who suffer because of dishonesty. There are complaints from time to time in the local bodies about the excessive legal charges made by solicitors but, of course, that does not come into this Bill. I would not be carrying out the wishes of many of my colleagues on various bodies if I did not avail of this opportunity to comment that these charges are regarded as excessive and weigh very heavily on those who have to bear them. As it is, this Bill will be welcomed by the general public as a safeguard against the rare cases of dishonesty that has characterised the conduct of certain solicitors in so far as their clients were concerned. However, it will, I believe, give greater protection to members of the general public who have from time to time to engage solicitors to carry out their work.

I welcome this Bill and I do so, not only as an individual but as a member of the Council of the Incorporated Law Society, on whose behalf I would like to thank the Minister and his predecessor, Deputy Boland, for all the time and attention they paid to it. The Council of the Law Society has been trying to press this Bill for about 15 years. As several Senators have said, it is not a Bill which really proves of any benefit to the solicitors' profession itself, but it does help the profession to strengthen its own hand. It is intended to give to the Council of the Law Society powers very similar to those the Medical Registration Council, the Veterinary Council, and the Dental Council already possess. The powers that the council are taking are similar to those already given to the Council of the Law Society in England, so that the Bill is designed to protect, not the profession but the people whom the profession serves. The solicitors' profession is probably unique, in that it is a profession which has to make itself unpleasant to a lot of people very often. A doctor enjoys the great advantage in coming in contact only with his patients, who invariably experience his kindness and help. Unfortunately for himself, the solicitor has to spend much of his time standing on the toes of other people in the interests of his client, and it is for that reason also that it is necessary to strengthen the hand of the Council of the Law Society in dealing with these cases.

In putting forward this Bill, the Law Society has been anxious to give the public the utmost protection that could possibly be given. Senator O'Sullivan has spoken of one case which he says did not receive the attention it deserved. I can honestly say that I happen for a number of years, to be a member of the Disciplinary Statutory Committee, which at present exists, and I certainly cannot recall the case which Senator OSullivan mentioned. As Senator O'Sullivan knows, the law has always provided that the fees of a solicitor can be taxed by the Taxing Master, and there is never any difficulty if a client wants to tax a Bill of Costs, in going to another solicitor to have them taxed.

I would say if Senator O'Sullivan would give particulars of the matter which he mentioned, to the Law Society, it would certainly be looked into. As regards the reference made by Senator Ruane to delays, I am afraid that one must recognise that the law is like other professions. Delays on matters are often very difficult, and from time to time occur. One of the objects of the present Bill is to enable the Council to deal with cases in which there is anything in the nature of real delay.

I would like to thank the Senators who have spoken in support of the Bill. Members of my profession believe that the effect of the Bill will be beneficial for the public, and therefore for the law in general.

I welcome this Bill especially because it will protect poor people. I have known cases where such people have suffered losses which they could ill-afford through the actions of solicitors. Anything that would tend to safeguard them is certainly welcome.

I welcome both the Bill and the Minister to the House. I would not have spoken at all were it not for the statement which I appreciate Senator Cox made honestly as a member of the profession. He brought to my mind one of the burning questions on which I am sorry to say this Bill does not go far enough. I hope there will be some legislation introduced to regulate the fees of the legal profession. Senator Cox mentioned that his profession are not in the position of the medical profession. Surely anybody will have to admit that the work of the medical profession in saving lives is as important as the acquisition of a lease of a bit of ground. I say that in proportion there is no comparison with the fees charged by the legal profession and I want to see something done about it. Take for instance the case of a man in the middle income group about to acquire land and build a home for himself and his family. There are hundreds of such men prevented from doing this because they dread the legal costs. It is not fair that in a percentage of cases of the acquisition of the site loan charges and mortgage fees are entirely out of proportion. I have no hesitation in saying that they are exorbitant and I am sorry that there is not something in this Bill to prevent such fees being charged.

I welcome the Bill because it protects the public who give their trust to the profession. Until this Bill is enacted, the public have not the protection we would like them to have. While Senator Cox has stated that this Bill is for the protection of the public, I am sorry it does not go far enough by having a clause to protect the public from the fees charged by the legal profession in this country.

I support this Bill, not for any of the reasons advanced by previous speakers but for the particular reason that in the achievement of the position we now occupy, our legal friends have played a very prominent part. When it was first decided by the First Dáil that we should set up an independent Irish Parliament, it was necessary that we should get the support of those in the legal profession. I think we got that support wholeheartedly, and because of that wholehearted support at that time, it was possible to organise and develop the Arbitration Courts then in existence. If it were for no other reason I would welcome this Bill to give a recognition of the conditions put before us by the organisation of such a body as the Incorporated Law Society.

The Bill before us is one to which we can give more detailed examination in Committee. Many references have been made to solicitors' charges and to the conditions which should be laid down for solicitors. I think we are all agreed on the general acceptance of the principle of the Bill. As I said at the outset, if the Bill had nothing more to recommend it than the part which the legal profession played in the establishment of the institutions of this country, I for one would be prepared to support it.

Senator Hawkins has to some extent said what I wanted to say on the Bill. I want to join with him in welcoming the Bill for the reasons which he has stated. I think we owe a tremendous amount in this House to the profession affected by the Bill. I do not think that the Constitution of this State would be as good as it is were it not for the fact that it is the brain child of a solicitor who, I am glad to say, is with us in the House. As an industrialist I welcome the Bill. Solicitors are constantly engaged and their advice is sought in all matters relating to industrial activity.

The one point that I want to refer to is the matter of delays. These have been with us ever since Dickens wrote on the subject. Somehow there are qualities associated with solicitors' offices which are quite unique in this modern world. They seem to be places where no one gets flurried. We all know that when the young members of the profession come fresh from the universities they are all out for change and to make this a new world. But, in course of time, that spirit soon wears off and they begin to take things at a slower pace. If the public have any complaint at all to make it is that the delays associated with the work of solicitors seem to be unnecessary and over long. I should like to pay a tribute to the solicitors' profession in this country. With very few exceptions, it has never blotted its copy or dirtied its escutcheon in any way.

I think that, in accepting this Bill, we should avail of the opportunity it presents to us of paying tribute to the members of the solicitors' profession for what they have done for this country, for the help they have given in building up our legal institutions, for our Constitution and for the guidance which they have given to us.

I should like to thank the members of the House for the way they have welcomed the Bill. It is really a Committee Bill so that the matters raised on the Second Reading can be discussed in greater detail when we reach that Stage of it. I should like to point out that the remuneration of solicitors is strictly regulated by Statute. There is no other profession that I know of where the remuneration or fees charged by the members are regulated by Statute in the same way as the remuneration of solicitors is.

In the memorandum which I circulated with the Bill, I explained that one of its main objects is to regulate and re-enact, with modifications, the existing law as to solicitors except the law concerning solicitors' remuneration. In this particular case, solicitors are making sacrifices for the benefit of the public. I cannot speak too highly of the assistance which the solicitors' profession has given me, as regards this Bill. We should remember that they are prepared to put a levy on the innocent members of the profession in order that the public interest may be safeguarded.

I may say that during the last 33 years I have had considerable experience of the work of members of the profession, solicitors and barristers. As members of the House have said, I have never heard any complaints about them, other than the complaint which people make when they say that things are too dear in the shops or that the work of a tradesman is too costly, or something of that kind. I think that, on the whole, one can say that the members of the solicitors' profession are worthy of our best support and thanks.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 15th December, 1954.
The Seanad adjourned at 8.55 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 15th December, 1954.