Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Questions (250)

Jonathan O'Brien


250. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the steps taken to act on the 2006 recommendations of the Competition Authority to establish a legal services commission in order to regulate the legal profession and legal services market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52015/18]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

I am happy to confirm that the Government’s roll-out of the reform of the Irish legal services sector to which the Deputy has referred has been taking place since the enactment of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015. The Act is the vehicle for the relevant reforms recommended by the Competition Authority in 2006 as undertaken by the Government under the EU/IMF/ECB Troika Programme. These include the introduction of a new and more consumer-friendly legal costs transparency regime, the setting out of Legal Costs Principles and the modernising transition of the Office of the Taxing-Master to that of the Legal Costs Adjudicators who will maintain a public register of their legal costs determinations.

They also include the introduction of an independent complaints and professional conduct regime for both solicitors and barristers including the establishment and appointment of an independent Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Tribunal. Members of the public will no longer make their complaints through the legal professional bodies as they do at present but directly to the new Authority. Both the legal costs and the public complaints regimes, for which extensive preparations are ongoing, are due to come into operation during Quarter 2 of 2019. The regulated introduction of new legal services models in the guise of Legal Partnerships and Limited Liability Partnerships is also due in Quarter 1 of 2019.

The key driver for much of this programme of structural reform is the Legal Services Regulatory Authority which was established, along the lines recommended by the Competition Authority, on 1 October 2016 and held its first meeting on 26 October 2016. The Authority has eleven members including a lay majority and a lay Chair, Dr. Don Thornhill, and continues to roll out its functions under its first full-time Chief Executive, Dr. Brian Doherty. Members of the Authority are nominated by ten prescribed nominating bodies who represent a balance of interests between the legal professions and those consumers, both private and enterprise, who avail of their services. The Authority is, under the 2015 Act, independent in the performance of its functions and appointments to it have to be approved by a motion of each House of the Oireachtas.

In its first year of operations to the end of 2017, the Authority produced five mandatory reports on new legal services options which included public consultations within deadlines set under the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015. It has also submitted its Annual Report for 2017 and recently produced a review of legal professional education. The Deputy will wish to be aware that I have laid these, along with the other reports to which I have referred, before the Houses of the Oireachtas in the required manner. The Authority will also soon be submitting its first statutory review of the operation of the 2015 Act directly to each House.

The Authority's forthcoming actions have been set out in its first Strategic Plan for 2018-2020 which I laid before the Houses on 1 May 2018. The Plan sets out indicative timelines for the roll-out of the Authority's functions during that period. This will be supported in each instance with the commencement, by me as Minister, of the relevant provisions concerned. The Authority has its own website on www.lsra.ie where its reports, minutes of meetings, Strategic Plan and other useful information are also publicly available.