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Tuesday, 12 Mar 2002

Vol. 3 No. 6

Solicitors (Amendment) Bill, 1998 [Seanad]: Committee Stage (Resumed).

Acting Chairman

I welcome members to the meeting, particularly in view of the current circumstances both in and outside their constituencies. I extend a special welcome to the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, and her officials. The first part of the business for today is to complete consideration of the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill.


Debate resumed on amendment No. 47:
In page 9, before section 8, to insert the following new section:
"8.-For the removal of doubt a solicitor or solicitors may together with a barrister or barristers appear and act together as advocates in any proceedings.".
-(Deputy Shatter).

Acting Chairman

This amendment has been discussed at considerable length.

I formally propose, in the context of the correspondence members of the committee have received from the Bar Council and the Bar Council deciding to publish correspondence between myself and two successive chairmen of the Bar Council - one now being a member of the High Court - while also failing to include some of that correspondence, that before we proceed to deal with amendment No. 47 we should give the Bar Council an opportunity to make a presentation to the committee.

I concur with that proposal. I understand the Bar Council is exercised by it and had considered seeking the right of audience here to present its case. The previous Minister of State who dealt with the issue - this is the third Minister we have dealt with on this amendment, if we keep going the entire Cabinet will have had their say on it - Deputy Hanafin, indicated that the view of the Minister was that he would have to have regard to the opinion of the Bar Council. She gave us that opinion, which was that there were implications for precedence in relation to the presentation of a case in court. These are the arguments on which we need to hear first hand from the Bar Council and I support Deputy Shatter's suggestion.

For the sake of balance, the proposal should also allow the Law Society to make a submission in response to the Bar Council, if it wishes, although it is not an issue currently before us.

I think the Deputy is ably represented.

I propose that we postpone further consideration of the Bill before us until after the Bar Council has had the opportunity to make its presentation and to be questioned on it.

I would like to know the Minister's view on this matter. No member wanted to be brought in here at 2 p.m. to further postpone dealing with the Bill. We should proceed with it, but I would like to know the Minister's view on the matter. My understanding is that both Opposition Deputies are willing to deal with the Bill today. Otherwise, we would not have brought members here today from various parts of the country. I do not know the position of the Opposition but I was told——

There are two Bills.

We should deal with the one before us now. I do not recall being asked if it suited the Government side for the Bill to be taken at 2 p.m. today. I simply got an e-mail to the effect that it was being taken. The Clerk,Mairead McCabe, later contacted my secretary and, as a result of that, I telephoned the various members. If Deputy Shatter wanted the taking of the Bill to be deferred, why was it necessary to allow the meeting to commence?

I have no wish to upset Deputy McGennis. She may not realise this, and I doubt whether she has received the documentation to which I am referring——

I have not received it either.

——but when I walked into the meeting today a few minutes before 2 p.m., I was handed a letter the Bar Council sent to the chairman of the committee enclosing the submission the Minister had last Wednesday, a copy of which I had sought directly from the Bar and the Minister. Neither the Minister nor the Minister's office had the courtesy to respond to that and provide me with a copy of the submission. The letter from me to the Minister's office was faxed last Thursday afternoon after we had dealt with this matter. The letter to the Bar Council was also faxed to them. At 2.01 p.m. I received a copy of the submission but, more interestingly, I received a copy of correspondence which, as I tried to explain to Deputy McGennis, apparently circulates to all members of the committee, in which I engaged with the Bar Council for two years about the particular issue which is the subject matter of this amendment. That correspondence is not comprehensive because it does not include some of the correspondence but it does, in fairness, include most of it.

I did not know that correspondence would be so circulated and as I am only now privy to the detailed submission the Bar Council made to the Minister, which is obviously substantially influencing the Minister's opposition to the amendment, and, in fairness to the Bar Council, and as this issue appears to be one that gives it cause for great angst, we should give it the opportunity to come in here and make its case. If I had received this documentation a few days ago I would have contacted Deputy McGennis and advised her that I thought that was the way the committee should proceed. It appears it is the submission from the Bar Council, together with whatever interpretation it is putting on correspondence I had with it, which is producing the Minister's opposition to this amendment.

It is in the public interest that the views of the Bar Council on this issue be given a public airing and that members of this committee have the opportunity to raise any questions they might deem relevant on it because this is not about doing business for the benefit of either solicitors or barristers but about the public interest, not vested interest. Our job is to act in the public interest. Also, we should not be unfair to any group, including the Bar Council. It has made a case to us. It has decided to publish certain correspondence and in the context of that, it should come in here and make that case. I would be happy for the Bar Council to make submissions to us early next week and for us to complete the Bill later in the week. I have no wish to hold up dealing with the Bill, but it is extraordinary that we should receive this amount of documentation at the commencement of a meeting. I doubt if Deputy McGennis or other Fianna Fáil members of the committee had an opportunity to read it. It included a copy of a letter that allegedly was being sent to me, which I have not received. I received this documentation only by dint of the fact that it went to the committee secretariat.

Acting Chairman

I understand it was placed in members' pigeon holes.

When was that?

Acting Chairman

I collected mine prior to this meeting.

I checked my pigeon hole at 1.55 p.m. but there was nothing in it.

As the chairman will appreciate, I have just come from Wexford. My office takes care of my post and I barely had a chance to grab a bite of lunch before I came here. Such notification for dealing with a pile of documentation is limited. I am anxious that we resolve this issue.

There are two amendments, which I thought we would have cleared long ago, given that we have spent a good deal of time on them. It is not helpful when a principled and important point is being pressed by the Opposition side and every time we come in here a different Minister of State or Minister deals with the matter. I do not say that with any disrespect to the distinguished Minister of State present, but she was not present for any of the debate or arguments put. The same argument ab initio has been put by the next Minister to come in without hearing any of the rebuttals.

Acting Chairman

I would like to give the Deputy some information and I ask the Minister of State to withhold her response. I propose that we go into private session so that the clerk can give us some information. I think she has been in touch with the Bar Council. It that agreed? Agreed.

The select committee went into private session at 2.22 p.m. and resumed in public session at2.51 p.m.

Acting Chairman

I ask Deputy Shatter to address amendment No. 47 which is under discussion.

In the light of discussions between members of the committee, I propose to withdraw the amendment and resubmit it on Report Stage. I am doing so on the basis that there is an identical amendment tabled to the Court and Court Officers Bill which this committee will commence dealing with today. I anticipate, however, that the amendment will not be reached today given the number of amendments with which we have to deal. I withdraw the amendment in the context of this committee agreeing to write to the Bar Council offering it the opportunity to make a submission to this committee on Thursday of next week, in support of its letter of 6 March 2002 to Mr. John Hurley in which it addresses amendment No. 47 of the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill). As I said, that is identical to an amendment tabled to the Court and Court Officers Bill. That will allow members to raise any questions they deem appropriate with the Bar Council on its views. To ensure all groups are treated equally, the committee will also invite the Law Society to appear before the committee if it so wishes and to state whatever it deems appropriate in response to what the Bar Council has to say on this issue. On that basis I formally withdraw amendment No. 47 with a view to re-entering it on Report Stage should an identical amendment to the Court and Court Officers Bill not be adopted ultimately by the committee.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Acting Chairman

Amendment No. 48 has already been discussed with amendmentNo. 18.

I move amendment No. 48:

In page 9, lines 18 to 20, to delete subsection (2) and substitute the following:

"(2) Section 9 shall come into operation on the passing of this Act and the remaining provisions shall come into operation on such day or days as may be appointed by order or orders made by the Minister, either generally or with reference to any particular purpose or provision, and different days may be so appointed for different purposes and different provisions of this Act.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 49:

In page 9, subsection (3), line 23, after "one" to insert ", and references in any enactment, whether passed before or after this Act, to the Solicitors Acts, 1954 and 1960, the Solicitors Acts, 1954 to 1994, or the Solicitors Acts, 1954 to 2001, or to any of them shall be construed as references to those Acts, or as the case may be that Act, as amended or extended by or under any enactment, including this Act”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 8, as amended, agreed to.

Acting Chairman

Amendment No. 50 has already been discussed with amendment No. 18.

I move amendment No. 50:


Amendment agreed to.
Title, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.

Acting Chairman

Before we proceed to Committee Stage of the next Bill, I wish to express my appreciation of the orderly way in which this Bill was disposed of. I apologise to the Minister of State for having to ask her to absent herself.