Legal regulator to be set up as Cabinet agrees reforms

Some measures will not be signed off until after Bill enacted, raising the possibility of further tensions

The arrangement approved by the Cabinet this morning will see the new legal regulator set up. It is understood the   regulator will be asked to report back to the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter on this question within six months of taking office.  Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

The arrangement approved by the Cabinet this morning will see the new legal regulator set up. It is understood the regulator will be asked to report back to the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter on this question within six months of taking office. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Tue, Jan 28, 2014, 16:00

The Cabinet has approved a new swathe of reforms to overhaul the legal sector, bringing to a close a dispute between Fine Gael and Labour over the final elements of the package.

A senior Government source said the deal includes measures to establish at a later date “one-stop shop” multi-disciplinary practices in which barristers could work alongside solicitors and other professionals, such as accountants.

This cannot be done immediately, however.

Although these particular measures will be embraced in the Legal Services Regulation Bill when it is enacted, they must await a further sign-off from the Government after the wider legislation comes into force.

This raises the possibility of further tension within the Coalition before the practices receive the final go-ahead.

The arrangement approved by the Cabinet this morning will see the new legal regulator set up under the legislation charged with a review of the operation and regulation of multi-disciplinary practices.

According to another Government source, the regulator will be asked to report back to the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter on this question within six months of taking office.

The Minister will then bring the review to Cabinet, which will then be charged with commencing the section of the legislation dealing with multi-disciplinary practices.

Labour objected to multidisciplinary practices when Minster for Justice Alan Shatter brought the proposal to Cabinet shortly before Christmas. The force of resistance from Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore led to this element of the reform proposal being delayed.

While the matter was resolved this morning, it had been listed for discussion at the previous two Cabinet meetings.

The Government originally published the legislation in 2011 but the committee stage Dáil debate on the Legal Services Regulation Bill was delayed by more than a year until July.

Only then were Government amendments to the least contentious sections of the Bill published, with controversial topics such as the question of multi-disciplinary practices held over for settlement later.

The Government’s failure to enact the long-delayed legislation was a major source of anxiety for the EU/IMF troika during the course of the bailout and the subject of frequent complaints from the international inspectors.

While the basic objective of the proposal is to reduce legal costs, the professional bodies representing barristers and solicitors had expressed scepticism about the proposal.

At the same time, figures in the Coalition said the delay was primarily caused by the officials dealing with the reforms concentrating their efforts on new insolvency legislation.