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.