Thursday, 11 July 2019

Questions (396)

Michael McGrath

Question:

396. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the consequences for lawyers and legal advisers for bringing fraudulent personal injury cases to court; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31428/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

The rights and obligations of solicitors, who are deemed to be officers of the court, derive from section 78 of the Judicature (Ireland) Act 1877 along with section 61 of the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act of 1961. Substantial rights and duties accrue, therefore, by virtue of this relationship. The Superior Courts have an inherent supervisory role over solicitors including, particularly, the High Court, which can impose sanctions for professional misconduct up to and including the striking off of any solicitor concerned. This is to ensure that solicitors comply with their ethical obligations and act with the highest standards of conduct while also allowing the court to discipline or penalise solicitors who have failed in their duty to the court. The court therefore relies on solicitors to comply with their duties and to take careful instructions from their clients, to prepare their pleadings carefully, and to represent their client as best they can while complying with their duties to the court of candour and disclosure.

Similarly, barristers have a duty to the court. Under the Professional Code of the Honorable Society of the King's Inns it is the duty of barristers to act at all times with honesty and integrity and not to engage in conduct which is prejudicial to the administration of justice. They are also obliged to comply with the provisions of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 and any relevant code issued by the Regulatory Authority.  Specifically, barristers have an over-riding duty to the court to ensure, in the public interest, that the proper and efficient administration of justice is achieved and they must assist the court in the administration of justice and must not deceive or knowingly mislead the court.  The Code of Conduct of the Bar of Ireland also provides that a barrister shall not knowingly make, procure or countenance the making of any false or misleading statement of fact, whether express or implied, written or parol, with regard to any matter in which the barrister is engaged to any court or other body.

It should be noted, therefore, that the courts supervision of these matters is in addition to those broader measures that also apply to solicitors and barristers in the conduct of their business under their respective professional regulatory regimes. These are matters which will fall, to a growing extent, to the Legal Services Regulatory Authority which will come into substantial operational mode in this area from October 2019. This will happen under Part 6 of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 which I will be commencing at that time. The Authority will then deal with disciplinary and conduct matters in relation to both solicitors and barristers.  This will be bolstered by the separate establishment of the new Legal Practitioners' Disciplinary Tribunal which will address serious misconduct in relation to both solicitors and barristers - including in terms of their possible striking off or disbarment with the approval of the High Court.

As I have set out , there are serious consequences for any legal practitioner who may be found to have acted in contravention of those duties owed to the court, including as the Deputy has raised, where this may involve an element of fraud. I would also point out that this is without prejudice to any investigation of such fraudulent matters by the competent authorities under the criminal law.