Cabinet review to delay overhaul of legal profession
Review of “one- stop shop” professional practices before they are introduced
New laws allowing barristers, solicitors and accountants to work together under one roof will be delayed by more than six months after the Cabinet resolved to review the “one- stop shop” professional practices before they are finally introduced.
The development settles the immediate source of tension between Fine Gael and Labour over the scope of a long- delayed overhaul of the legal professions. Amid reservations in Labour over the new practices, a Cabinet row before Christmas had blocked agreement on the final elements of the reform package.
The Fine Gael and Labour wings of Government each insisted last night that the multi- disciplinary practices (MDPs) would indeed proceed, but the final go-ahead remained subject to further approval by the Cabinet after a formal review. This raises the possibility of further tension among Ministers.
Reduce legal costs
Measures to establish MDPs will still be embraced in the Legal Services Regulation Bill when it is enacted later this year, the basic aim being to reduce legal costs. However, the ministerial order to bring this element of the legislation into force will not be signed until the review is completed.
The professional bodies representing barristers and solicitors have long expressed scepticism about the overhaul. Long delays in the process were the subject of frequent criticism by the EU-IMF troika during the bailout.
The Government originally published the legislation in 2011, but the committee stage Dáil debate was delayed by more than a year until July last year.
Only then were Government amendments to the least contentious sections of the Bill published, with controversial elements, including MDPs, held over for settlement later.
The Government decision yesterday directs that the review of the operation and regulation of MDPs should be carried out by the new legal services regulator which is to be established once the legislation is enacted.
A spokesman for Taoiseach Enda Kenny said enactment
was scheduled this year but he was no more specific than that. However, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter is likely to push to have the Bill through the Dáil and Seanad by the summer. The expectation in Government circles is that the regulator will be in place by the end of the year.
According to the Government decision, the regulator must report back to the Minister for Justice with findings from the review within six months of its establishment. The Minister must then revert to Cabinet within 30 days. Only at that point can approval be granted for the introduction of the new practices.
A spokeswoman for Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said “100 per cent” of the concerns raised by Labour had been dealt with in the decision.