Thursday, 1 February 2018

Questions (147)

James Browne


147. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will extend the time limit for complaints from three years to five years in view of the delays affecting the establishment of the Legal Services Regulatory Authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4984/18]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I would like to begin my Reply by clarifying that under the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 there will be no time limit for complaints concerning allegations of professional misconduct by a legal practitioner. The three-year time limit to which the Deputy has referred will apply only to those complaints of a more minor nature that are made about inadequate services or excessive fees at what could be described as a consumer level. This is similar to the current regime that applies under the Solicitors' Acts albeit with a five-year limitation period in relation to the more minor level consumer complaints category.

In relation to complaints made under the 2015 Act about legal practitioners, a three-year time limit applies under section 58(7) to those consumer type complaints about "inadequate services" or "excessive fees" that may be made under section 51(1) of the Act once commenced. That is to say, complaints about behaviour around these particular issues at a more minor level that would not be considered to amount to “professional misconduct” as such. The application of the three-year time period under the 2015 Act is intended to encourage the early, informal and less costly resolution of these more minor consumer level complaints between the client and lawyer concerned.

However, a clear distinction must be drawn between such consumer level complaints and those of a more serious nature relating to allegations of professional misconduct by solicitors or barristers that can be made to the Legal Services Regulatory Authority under section 51(2) of the 2015 Act once commenced. This includes, where appropriate, by referral of the matters concerned to the Complaints Committee and to the Legal Practitioners' Disciplinary Tribunal that will be established under the Act. Section 50 of the Act sets out those acts or omissions by a legal practitioner that may be considered as constituting misconduct for that purpose including the charging of fees that would be considered to be grossly excessive. There will be no time limit on the making of such complaints to the Legal Services Regulatory Authority concerning allegations of professional misconduct by a legal practitioner.

All in all, I think the application of a three year limitation period to the making of consumer level complaints, and of no limitation period to complaints relating to allegations of professional misconduct, continue to represent a reasonable balance of the weight and gravity of the matters concerned and this is set to remain the policy position. Pending the commencement of those provisions of Part 6 of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 under which the new public complaints regime will come into operation, the current complaints framework under the Solicitors' Acts will continue to be available to the public. Any complaints made about solicitors through the Law Society under the existing framework of the Solicitors’ Acts will, of course, have to be completed under the existing law and procedures that apply for that purpose.