Lawyer bodies lobbied Taoiseach on Bill reforms

‘Deep concern’ expressed to Fine Gael chief in meetings before Bill watered down

Law Society director general Ken Murphy: Wrote to Taoiseach Enda Kenny in December 2011 to express “very deep concerns” about the Legal Services Regulation Bill. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Law Society director general Ken Murphy: Wrote to Taoiseach Enda Kenny in December 2011 to express “very deep concerns” about the Legal Services Regulation Bill. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Top barristers and solicitors expressed “deep concern” about plans to reform the legal profession in lobbying meetings with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, before the legislation was substantially watered down.

The Bar Council and Law Society each met the Taoiseach in the course of a long campaign against key parts of the legislation, which was under debate for four years before its passage through the Oireachtas a fortnight ago.

The Government anticipates President Michael D Higgins will sign the Legal Services Regulation Bill into law this week.

The two bodies secured big concessions when late amendments were made in advance of the final Oireachtas debates. After centuries of self-regulation, they will retain major powers when oversight of the sector transfers to a new independent regulator.

A key objective of the overhaul, a condition of Ireland’s bailout programme in 2010, is to lower costs.

Records released by the Department of the Taoiseach show a Bar Council delegation relayed deep concern about the Bill at a meeting in May 2013 with Mr Kenny and Martin Fraser, secretary general of the department.

Law Society concerns

The records, released under the Freedom of Information Act, also show the Law Society directly raised similar concerns with Mr Kenny in the weeks after Alan Shatter, then minister for justice, published the Bill in autumn 2011.

The Bar Council’s meeting with the Taoiseach came amid discussions on an initial series of amendments to the original Bill, the passage of which through the Dáil had been delayed for more than a year.

Present at the meeting – in Mr Fraser’s office, on May 28th, 2013 – were Bar Council chief executive Jerry Carroll, its chairman David Nolan and other figures including its adviser Martin Mackin of public relations firm Q4.

The Bar Council had already expressed concerns to Mr Shatter but a note by an official in the Department of the Taoiseach said the council was concerned about the minister’s stance.

“As the Bill is to be discussed as [sic] committee stage in the Dáil from 10-12 July they are concerned that their views will not be taken on board by the Minister and consider there has been a lack of engagement with him in relation to the matter.”

The note also said the council had enquired about the process for making amendments and was told “substantive amendments are brought back to Government by the Minister concerned”.

‘Very deep concerns

Ken Murphy, director general of the Law Society, wrote to Mr Kenny in December 2011 after meeting him for 15 minutes at an event in the Mount Falcon Hotel in Ballina, Co Mayo, to express “very deep concerns” about the Bill.

“I was struck by how engaged and attentive you were to what I had to say,” wrote Mr Murphy, who was reassured the Bill would not be rushed.

“You also gave me very strong reassurance when I expressed the Society’s fear that, despite the total absence of consultation in relation to the contents of the Bill in advance of its publication, that the fundamental policy of the Bill could not be changed. You said emphatically that any of the contents of the Bill could be changed.”

Representations against the Bill were also made by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Chamber of Commerce, the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe and the International Academy of Trial Lawyers.

Frank Callanan, a senior counsel, wrote to Mr Kenny in September 2011 to say the Bill as proposed was “catastrophically” deficient. “The bill is very un-Fine Gael. It is not in your style as Taoiseach,” he wrote. “It should not be adopted by the rational, pragmatically reforming government you lead.”