The Deputy’s question refers to issues raised, of which I am fully aware, in the minutes of the Authority’s meeting on 16 November last concerning the timeline for activation of legal partnerships (i.e. partnerships between barristers, or between barristers and solicitors) under the Legal Services Regulation Act. In the elements of the minutes referred to by the Deputy, it is recorded that the Authority expressed a view as to the external determination of timeframes on it as an independent authority and as to a manageable commencement schedule for its functions under the Act and the capacity and resource dependencies that arise. These minutes are, of course, a matter of public record.
The introduction of Legal Partnerships is one of several areas of structural reform where both I as Minister, and the Authority as independent regulator, have respective implementing roles under the 2015 Act. As reflected in the minutes under reference, this can give rise to competing priorities against set statutory timelines which have to be managed in mutual consultation by my Department and by the Authority in achieving the overall key objective of implementation of the 2015 Act. This introduction of Legal Partnerships is part of the ongoing working collaboration between my Department and the Legal Services Regulatory Authority. It is, therefore, among those matters being addressed in the Authority's first Strategic Plan for the period 2018-2020 that I will, as I have also conveyed in my Written Reply to Question No. 557, be laying before the Houses in the coming days.
As I have pointed out in my Written Reply to Question No. 557 of 17 April 2018, the challenge remains that of ensuring that the roll-out of the Authority's regulatory functions in a legally robust manner can be aligned, to the satisfaction of the Authority, with its anticipated available capacity and resources as an independent regulator. In relation to resources, as the Deputy will also know from previous replies, the sum of €1m was advanced by me to the Authority, under the legislation, in 2016, a further sum of the same amount was advanced in December 2017 and a further such sum, budgeted for 2018, falls to be advanced in early course. These advances pave the way to the activation in due course of the levy mechanisms in the 2015 Act.
The Regulatory Authority is, I understand, also engaged in detailed preparations and consultations with stakeholders for the introduction and operation of the levy on regulated legal practitioners under Part 7 of the 2015 Act. It may also make regulations in relation to the operation of the levy under section 98 of the Act. The Authority is also engaged in detailed preparatory work to set up and maintain the Roll of Practising Barristers under Part 9 of the 2015 Act which is a pre-requisite for the operation of the levy. Again, these matters are, I understand, being addressed by the Authority in its Strategic Plan for the period 2018-2020.
As I have pointed out to the Authority, my overriding concern, as Minister with policy and legislative responsibility and accountability in this area, is to make early progress in commencing the key provisions of the 2015 Act that remain to be commenced. My primary overall purpose is the full implementation of the law as it was enacted by the Oireachtas in the 2015 Act, including in relation to any timelines that may apply, while fully recognising the independence conferred on the Authority in the performance of its functions under the Act and the fact that this implementation, which is a major undertaking, must be done in a careful, robust and risk-managed way. My Department continues to work, on an ongoing basis, with the Authority’s Chief Executive and staff, and in a manner appropriate to the independence of the Authority.