Legal regulator to cost €4m a year

Government says it is ‘more committed than ever’ to enacting proposals to reduce costs in the sector

Department of Justice study restates the case for an overhaul of the legal sector, arguing it has a “staid” professional structure that has struggled to keep up with “the reality of the globalisation of legal services”. Photograph: Alan Betson

Department of Justice study restates the case for an overhaul of the legal sector, arguing it has a “staid” professional structure that has struggled to keep up with “the reality of the globalisation of legal services”. Photograph: Alan Betson

Mon, Dec 16, 2013, 01:00

FIACH KELLY


The proposed regulatory regime for the legal profession will cost an estimated €4 million a year, according to an internal Government study.

The figure includes the cost of running two new oversight bodies, a regulator and a disciplinary tribunal, whose most senior officials will each receive salaries of €135,000.

The Government has come under pressure from the EU-IMF troika over the slow progress of the Legal Services Regulation Bill, designed to reduce costs in the sector.

The Bill was first published in October 2011 amid criticism from lawyers’ groups and the key final batch of Government amendments on some of the most controversial elements is due to go to cabinet on Tuesday.

Seeking to allay doubts about the Government’s appetite for legal reform, the post-bailout economic strategy, to be published this week, will pledge the coalition “more committed than ever” to following through on the proposals.

It will reiterate key promises to give consumers direct access to barristers; permit barristers to move away from the sole- trader model and operate in partnerships; and allow barristers employed by firms to represent their employers in court.

A regulatory impact assessment by the Department of Justice puts the cost of the new regime at €4 million a year, which is significantly lower than an estimate from the Bar Council, the representative body for barristers.

The regime would be self-funded by a levy on lawyers and most of the money would be spent on staff and premises for two new bodies, the Legal Services Regulatory Authority and the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal.

The regulator would have a staff of 24, with the chief executive’s salary of €135,000 rising with overheads to “a working cost” of €237,263.

Overhaul

The tribunal, which would take over the functions of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and the Barristers Professional Conduct Tribunal, would have a staff of five. Its chairman would receive a salary of €135,000, also rising with overheads to a cost of €237,263.

The study restates the case for an overhaul of the legal sector, arguing it has a “staid” professional structure that has struggled to keep up with “the reality of the globalisation of legal services”.

The document says the high cost of legal services poses problems for members of the public and for Ireland’s competitiveness.

The key amendments to the Bill, to be published this week, centre on proposals to change how barristers and solicitors work by allowing for barrister partnerships, barrister-solicitor partnerships and multidisciplinary practices with other professionals.

The Department of Justice says it is aiming to enact the Bill, and to establish the new regulatory and disciplinary bodies, in the first half of next year.

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