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Legal Services Regulation

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 30 July 2020

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Ceisteanna (1025, 1026, 1027, 1028, 1029, 1030, 1031, 1032)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

1025. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason it took five years from the EU/IMF agreement requiring reform of the legal profession to the enactment of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015; the reason it took a further five years to implement the Act; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19701/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

1026. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if funding was provided by the EU for legal reform pursuant to the EU/IMF agreement; the cost to date of this reform; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19702/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

1027. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the body or agency of the EU charged with monitoring the reform of the legal profession here pursuant to the EU/IMF agreement; if she will provide details and findings of progress reports in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19703/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

1028. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason the Legal Services Regulatory Authority removed the right of a person to bring a matter before the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal; the mechanism by which a person may now bring a matter before the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19704/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

1029. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the estimated annual cost of the Legal Services Regulatory Authority to date in 2020, in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19705/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

1030. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of persons employed at the Legal Services Regulatory Authority by grade, in tabular form; the number of those who formerly worked in the complaints department of the Law Society; the procedure by which persons formerly employed by the Law Society were appointed to the authority; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19706/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

1031. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason the time frame within which to bring a complaint to the Legal Services Regulatory Authority was reduced from five to three years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19707/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

1032. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the agency or body charged with regulating the Law Society of Ireland; the agency or body that the body is answerable to in the event that it is found to have acted unlawfully; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19708/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1025 to 1032, inclusive, together.

The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) was established on 1 October 2016 under the Legal Services Regulation Act of 2015. The Act was one of our national undertakings in support of structural reform, national competitiveness and economic recovery under the EU/IMF/ECB Memorandum of Understanding on Specific Economic Policy Conditionality of 28th November 2010.  The early deadline for the publication of the Bill was met and it commenced its passage through the Oireachtas with Dáil Second Stage on 16 December 2011. The Bill was one of a series of competing legislative priorities which had to be met in support of national recovery including, for example, in response to the very pressing issues of insolvency, bankruptcy and personal debt.

In more specific terms the Bill delivered our Troika undertakings to establish an independent regulator for the legal profession; to implement the recommendations of the Legal Costs Working Group, and to implement the outstanding recommendations of the Competition Authority to reduce legal costs.

The subsequent progress of the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011 and its detailed debate before both Houses up to enactment in December 2015 are a matter of public record on the Oireachtas website. The implementation of the Bill and other undertakings of the Troika Programme are also a matter of public record both in their regular reporting by Government to the Houses and in the form of the Reviews of the Economic Adjustment Programme for Ireland published several times each year by the European Commission between 2011 and 2013. This was followed by a series of post-programme surveillance reports by the Commission, the latest of which was published last Autumn. An ‘Ex Post Evaluation’ of the programme for 2010 to 2013 is also publicly available with all of these documents and their accompanying financial information on the website ec.europa.ie.  Full details of the Legal Services Regulatory Authority, its budget and roll-out of functions and its annual and other statutory reports which have been laid before the Houses, are publicly available on its website www.lsra.ie.

In relation to the specific issues raised by the Deputy about the operation of the legal services regulatory regime, under the Solicitors Acts dating back to 1954, the Law Society has been the designated body for the regulation of solicitors in the State and the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal has dealt with cases of serious professional misconduct. With the commencement of the relevant provisions of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 by my predecessor Minister Charlie Flanagan with effect from 7th October 2019, we are now setting up the new Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Tribunal which is entirely independent of the Regulatory Authority and the legal professional bodies in the exercise of its functions. The Tribunal which is due to come into operation later this year, will deal with allegations of serious misconduct by all legal practitioners, whether they be solicitors or barristers. While the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal is now being wound down in response to the new regulatory regime, matters already before it under the previous legislation will have to be completed under the applicable law which applied for that purpose including under the relevant review and appeal structures set out in the Solicitors’ Acts. This is entirely separate from the new statutory functions of the LSRA.

However, under the new regulatory regime of the 2015 Act allegations of professional misconduct by solicitors and barristers are no longer dealt with through their professional bodies as was previously the case. Rather, they are considered independently by the Regulatory Authority, whose Complaints Committee may refer relevant matters of serious misconduct to the new and separate Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Tribunal.

In relation to the time allowed under the 2015 Act for the bringing of complaints about legal practitioners, I would point out that there is no time limit on the bringing of complaints about professional misconduct before the regulatory authority. The three-year period referred to by the Deputy relates only to more minor services and costs issues which would fall short of professional misconduct. This is solely intended to support clients in seeking to resolve matters of this nature by more informal means.

In relation to the total expenditure by the Legal Services Regulatory Authority since its establishment  in October 2016 the situation is as set out in the following table.

LSRA Expenditure by Year 2016 to 2019

Year

Total Expenditure

Oct 2016-31 Dec 2017

€871,839

1 Jan 2018- 31 Dec 2018

€1,294,903

1 Jan 2019-31 Dec 2019

€1,653,549

The Deputy will also wish to be aware that under Part 7 of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015, the LSRA is also funded by an annual levy on those legal practitioners who come within the terms of its regulatory functions based on the actual expenditure of the Authority in the preceding financial year. The first such levy was raised by the Authority in November 2019 for the financial year 2018. The levy process for the 2019 financial year is currently underway.

Staffing numbers at the LSRA have grown with the roll-out of its functions under the relevant sanction of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. A total staff allocation of 55 is allowed for, 51 with the Authority itself and 4 who work separately in support of the operation of the new and independent Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Tribunal.

LSRA Staff Resources as at 24 July 2020

Grade

Staff Allocation

As at 24/07/2020

Vacancy

Assistant Secretary

1

1

0

Principal Officer

2

2

0

Assistant Principal Officer

6

6

0

Advisory Counsel Grade III

1

0

1

State Solicitor

12

6

6

Higher Executive Officer

10

3

7

Executive Officer

3

0

3

Clerical Officer

16

16

0

Total

51

34

17

The transfer of appropriately qualified staff of the Law Society to specifically support the public complaints functions of the LSRA took place under the detailed terms set out in section 26 of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015.  This was a once-off transitional arrangement under which a total of 11 former Law Society staff exercised this option.  Of these, seven are assigned to the LSRA’s Complaints, Investigations and Resolutions Department, while the remaining four are currently providing ongoing logistical and administrative support to the completion of the work of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. The Complaints, Investigations and Resolutions Department currently has 17 staff assigned to it and further public recruitment is planned before the end of the year.

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