The Programme for Government 2011-2016 undertakes to “establish independent regulation of the legal profession to improve access and competition, make legal costs more transparent and ensure adequate procedures for addressing consumer complaints”. These undertakings complement those structural reforms in the EU/IMF/ECB Troika Programme of Financial Support for Ireland aimed at removing restrictions to trade and competition in the provision of legal services and at the reform of the legal costs regime.
Effect is being given to these structural reform commitments in the form of the extensive provisions of the Legal Services Bill 2011 which remains a priority under the Government Legislation Programme, has completed Second Stage in the Dáil and is currently awaiting Committee Stage - the Deputy will recall that priority also had to be given to the enactment of the Personal Insolvency Bill by the end of last year as a competing Troika programme objective. In meeting the concerns raised by the Deputy, the Legal Services Regulation Bill has four main levers of modernisation and reform, namely,
- a new, independent, Legal Services Regulatory Authority with responsibility for oversight of both solicitors and barristers.
- an independent complaints system to deal with public complaints including those relating to professional misconduct. There will also be an independent Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Tribunal to deal with both legal professions.
- an Office of the Legal Costs Adjudicator that will assume the role of the existing Taxing-Master. The new Office, headed by a Chief Legal Costs Adjudicator, will modernise the way disputed legal costs are adjudicated and two new Taxing-Masters have already been appointed in anticipation of this reform. Determinations of costs made by the Adjudicator will be made public and the Adjudicator may also publish legal costs guidelines. Separately, the Bill sets out, for the first time in legislation, a set of Legal Costs Principles. It also imposes greater obligations on legal practitioners to disclose the actual or potential costs of legal proceedings to their clients.
- a framework for Alternative Business Models. The Bill facilitates new forms of legal services provision that take account of the emergent new business models in other common law jurisdictions and the huge advances made in business technology. These new or "alternative" business structures will be optional alongside current forms of practise and their availability will address a growing competitive disadvantage for our legal services sector.
Detailed preparation of the Legal Services Regulation Bill is ongoing at my Department in conjunction with the Offices of the Attorney General and of Parliamentary Counsel. As I have previously indicated, amendments to the Bill will be made available for consideration prior to the commencement of Committee Stage which is anticipated during the coming Session.