Written Answers. - Law Society.
426 Mr. C. Lenihan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he has satisfied himself in all respects with the performance of the Law Society as a self-appointed, self-regulating professional representative body; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27446/01]
427 Mr. C. Lenihan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his plans for the regulation of the solicitors profession on a statutory basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27447/01]
428 Mr. C. Lenihan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his plans for the appointment of an independent body or ombudsman to investigate complaints against members of the solicitors profession; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27448/01]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 426 to 428, inclusive, together.
The solicitors profession is regulated on a statutory basis. The OECD report on regulatory reform in Ireland, which was launched by the Taoiseach on 24 April last, contained recommendations on the profession. These will be examined as part of the response to the report.
The Solicitors Acts, 1954 to 1994, provide for a disciplinary tribunal to deal with complaints of misconduct against solicitors. The tribunal con sists of ten solicitor members and five lay members. The lay members are appointed on my nomination. A member of the public or the Law Society may apply to the tribunal for an inquiry into the conduct of a solicitor. Where a finding of misconduct is made against a solicitor, the tribunal can impose penalties of a limited nature and, if they consider that the penalties which they are empowered to impose are not adequate in the light of the misconduct found, they can recommend more serious sanctions to the High Court including that the solicitor be struck off the roll.
In addition to the functions of the tribunal in relation to misconduct, the Solicitors Acts give power to the Law Society to impose sanctions on solicitors for inadequate services or for charging excessive fees.
A member of the public who is dissatisfied with how the Law Society handles a complaint made to them in relation to alleged misconduct, inadequate services or charging excessive fees may refer the matter to the adjudicator appointed under the Solicitors (Adjudicator) Regulations, 1997. The adjudicator can require the production of documents and make conclusions of fact and recommendations. He may direct the society to re-examine or re-investigate the related complaint made to it about a solicitor where he is not satisfied that the society has investigated the complaint adequately. He may also direct the society to make an application to the disciplinary tribunal for an inquiry into the conduct of the solicitor. The regulations provide that the adjudicator shall be independent in the discharge of his functions.
I am aware that individual members of the public do feel aggrieved from time to time about how complaints are handled but this is the case with any dispute resolution mechanism. I am not convinced that, because of this alone, we should reduce the present regulatory functions of the Law Society over the profession.
While all legislative provisions are subject to review, the broad structure of the disciplinary regime for solicitors appears to be satisfactory. However, in order to make it more effective, I intend to move amendments, some of which were circulated on 26 September 2001 to the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill, 1998, which is awaiting Committee Stage in the Dáil having been passed by the Seanad. These amendments make important changes on disciplinary matters including the doubling of the size of the disciplinary tribunal and a substantial increase in penalties. I am satisfied that the Bill, when enacted, will further enhance the system for the handling of complaints against solicitors.