Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Questions (653)

Finian McGrath


653. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Justice and Equality her views on correspondence (details supplied) regarding the Law Society; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22283/14]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

As some of the matters raised by the Deputy have been brought before the Law Society and a case is going before the Office of the Independent Adjudicator under the relevant complaints procedures of the Solicitors Acts 1954 to 2013, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the details of the specific case involved. The matters raised have also been responded to in separate correspondence with my Department.

However, in relation to the broader concerns raised, I would point out that the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011, which has completed Dáil Committee Stage, gives legislative expression to the commitment in the Programme for Government to "establish independent regulation of the legal professions to improve access and competition, make legal costs more transparent and ensure adequate procedures for addressing consumer complaints". The Government’s continued commitment to the Bill’s wide-reaching structural reforms is reflected in the fact that the Bill, having been a key structural reform under the EU/IMF/ECB Troika Programme, is now a key component of the Action Plan for Jobs, the Medium Term Economic Strategy 2014-2020 and of the National Reform Plan. I would highlight that the Bill, in three of the objectives it sets out in section 9 for the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority, balances the focus of regulation more evenly to the benefit of consumers of legal services. It does this in terms of 'protecting and promoting the public interest; protecting and promoting the interests of consumers relating to the provision of legal services and, promoting competition in the provision of legal services in the State'.

Building on these consumer focussed objectives, the Legal Services Regulation Bill makes extensive provision for a new and enhanced legal costs regime that will bring greater transparency to how legal costs are charged along with a better balance between the interests of legal practitioners and those of their clients. The Bill sets out, for the first time in legislation, a series of Legal Costs Principles. These are contained in Schedule One and enumerate the various matters that may be taken into account if disputed costs are submitted for adjudication by the new Office of the Independent Adjudicator which will replace that of the existing Taxing-Master. These cost transparency measures will apply to barristers as well as to solicitors. The Bill also provides that the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority will be bolstered by an independent complaints regime and an independent Legal Practitioners' Disciplinary Tribunal. The new Authority will provide a first port of call that is entirely independent of the legal professional bodies for members of the public who may have complaints about solicitors or barristers - at present this is done through their respective professional bodies. Enactment of the Legal Services Regulation Bill will, therefore, create a clearer distinction between the historical representational role of the Law Society and the regulatory functions that are being conferred by the Bill on the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority in relation to solicitors. This will inspire greater public confidence in the independence of regulation in this area.