Legal executives step up their campaign for recognition

Alan Shatter says issue will not be dealt with in current legal reform package

Some 600 members of the Irish Institute of Legal Executives are seeking statutory formalisation of their role. On right, Patrick Courtney of the IILE (top) and Minister Alan Shatter

Some 600 members of the Irish Institute of Legal Executives are seeking statutory formalisation of their role. On right, Patrick Courtney of the IILE (top) and Minister Alan Shatter

Mon, Feb 10, 2014, 01:05

Ireland’s legal executives are seeking a statutory formalisation of their role in the judicial system, although with the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, opposed to including them in forthcoming legislation, it appears they still have a long road to travel.

There are some 600 members of the Irish Institute of Legal Executives, the body agitating for a similar status afforded to their UK counterparts.

Legal executives are not lawyers. Rather, they are assistants whose role often includes the execution of basic functions in the courts, at least in Dublin.

They have legal qualifications but are not members of the Law Library or of King’s Inns.

In spite of that, the Institute believes that by securing statutory recognition its practitioners will be given a type of status that has so far evaded them; the knock-on effects would be the potential for cost-effective, basic legal services and parity with executives around the country whose powers fall short of those de facto in the capital.

“We feel that there is a tier of the legal system being left out. We are the third tier; there are barristers, solicitors and legal executives and we are being excluded,” says Patrick Courtney, president of the institute’s central council.

“[Alan Shatter] says he has no plans for them in this legislation and if they want recognition for what they are doing, why don’t they become solicitors or barristers but there are occasions where legal executives don’t want to become solicitors or barristers.”

The institute, with some political support, would like to be formalised in the pending Legal Services Regulation Bill but the Minister has firmly and consistently ruled this out.

According to Courtney, executives in Dublin have over the years assumed the informal ability to carry our various functions: to fix and adjourn court dates, to rule on settlements and to challenge jury selections. They are also involved in conveyancy.

“If there was formal recognition then legal executives could use the same powers in rural areas that they do in Dublin. We are looking for parity in Dublin and in other areas around the country,” says Courtney.

Another benefit of being granted a firmer footing is that the public could avail of cheaper basic legal services, he says. This, the argument goes, would fall in line with the Troika’s desire to see a reduction in such costs.

But there is little expectation of any immediate change and so the Institute is ploughing ahead with its campaign to raise awareness at a public and political level, amplified by debate surrounding the forthcoming bill.

“I don’t think Minister Shatter is going to move to help us with this,” says Courtney.

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