Solicitors (Amendment) Bill, 1994: Committee Stage.

When I have concluded my opening remarks we will suspend the meeting to allow the spokespersons to attend the Order of Business in the Dáil Chamber. Is that agreed? Agreed.

For how long will the meeting be suspended?

We will resume immediately after the Order of Business because it is not a formal adjournment. I must wait until the spokespersons return.

Last night in the Dáil I was in possession on a different Bill and I would like to complete my contribution, which will take approximately five minutes. Perhaps the Chairman could facilitate me in this regard.

Is that agreed? Agreed. The business before the Select Committee on Legislation and Security today is Committee Stage of the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill, 1994. I propose that the committee continues its deliberations on the Bill until 1.30 p.m. and we will then have a sos until 4 p.m., as the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy O'Dea must be in the Dáil for Question Time. We will resume our deliberations at 4 p.m.

The committee's schedule for the next six weeks is crowded. As a result, following our consideration of the Bill today we will not be able to resume until Tuesday, 10 May 1994. If we do no conclude our deliberations on that date, it may be some time before we are able to return to it because of the crowded schedule. For that reason, I am anxious to make as much progress as possible. I propose we continue for as long as it is necessary this evening so that we can get through as much of the Bill as possible. Is that agreed? Agreed.

We will now suspend the sitting to give Members and spokespersons an opportunity to attend the Dáil. We will resume the business as soon as they return.

Sitting suspended at 10.35 a.m. and resumed at 11 a.m.

The purpose of the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill, 1994, is to amendment and extend the Solicitors Acts, 1954 to 1960. The basic Act, the Solicitors Act, 1954, was amended by the Solicitors (Amendment) Act, 1960. The new Bill is divided into seven sections. Part 1 deals with preliminary and general matters. Part II deals with the name and membership of the Law Society. Part III deals an investigation of complaints and Part IV is concerned with measures to protect clients. Part V sets out requirements for qualifying as a solicitor. Part VI deals with practising certificates and practice matters and Part VII includes a number of miscellaneous provisions.

Many provisions in the Bill substitute new sections in the 1954 or Principal Act and in the 1960 Act. Under Part II the name of the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland will be changed to the Law Society of Ireland. Part III gives clients of solicitors a statutory right to make complaints about inadequate or shoddy services and also complaints about overcharging by solicitors. The obligations and duties of the Law Society in respect of these complaints are set out in sections 8 and 9. There is provision in section 15 for the establishment of an independent adjudicator to examine complaints about the handling by the Law Society of complaints made to it concerning a solicitor. A new disciplinary tribunal will be established with lay members to inquire into complaints of misconduct by solicitors and limited powers are being given to the tribunal to impose penalties on solicitors where misconduct is found.

Part IV enables the Law Society to require solicitors to have indemnity cover against civil liability claims against them. This part of the Bill also deals with changes being made to the compensation fund, which includes placing a limit or cap on grants made from the fund. There are also new provisions in this Part giving the society powers to intervene in a solicitor's practice and to sell the solicitor's practice in certain cases. Part V substitutes for a number of sections in the Principal Act dealing with requirements for admission as a solicitor, admission to apprenticeship and the terms of indentures of apprenticeship. Restrictions on the taking up of apprenticeships are being eased and the terms of indentures of apprenticeship are being reduced from a maximum five years to a maximum of two years.

Under Part VI new powers are being given to the Law Society to apply to the High Court to have practising certificates suspended or to have conditions imposed on current practising certificates. The penalties for unqualified persons acting as solicitors or pretending to be solicitors are being increased. Part VII deals with a number of miscellaneous matters. It imposes new obligations on solicitors to inform their clients in regard to charges for legal services. The Law Society shall not prohibit solicitors from advertising their fees. There are new statutory requirements on solicitors to account to their clients for interest on clients moneys. Solicitors will be prohibited from withdrawing from a criminal case where a client is in custody. A number of provisions empower financial institutions to provide for the making of wills, probate and other services.

Many other provisions are contained in this Bill, comprising 83 sections. I have referred to the significant sections. We will consider all sections on Committee Stage. It should be noted that amendments have been tabled by the following, the Minister for Justice, Deputies G. Mitchell, Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny), O’Donnell and Gilmore.