Legal bodies not reticent about relaying fears about reforms

Opposition to legal profession reforms was expressed to Taoiseach Enda Kenny directly

The Bar Council retains the right to refuse membership of the Law Library to barristers in employment or new business models. The Law Society retains financial and accounting oversight of solicitors.

The Bar Council retains the right to refuse membership of the Law Library to barristers in employment or new business models. The Law Society retains financial and accounting oversight of solicitors.

 

After years of delay, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald expects to commence legislation to overhaul the legal professions early in 2016. Records from the Department of the Taoiseach show just how contentious a process this proved to be.

Draft laws to introduce independent regulation of the sector were introduced in 2011 by Alan Shatter, Fitzgerald’s predecessor. The proposal ran into resistance from the legal professions, whose representative bodies relayed deep anxiety to Taoiseach Enda Kenny and other Coalition figures.

Such concerns were never secret. Both the Bar Council and Law Society made clear from the outset their deep opposition to key strands of the Legal Services Regulation Bill. Still, records released under the Freedom of Information Act show just how they made their views known in the top echelon of Government.

The final package is quite a different beast to Shatter’s original. Although Fitzgerald has insisted the initiative will help to reduce legal costs and modernise the sector, the council and society emerge with major powers intact.

For example, the Bar Council retains the right to refuse membership of the Law Library to barristers in employment or new business models. The Law Society retains financial and accounting oversight of solicitors.

Ken Murphy, director general of the society, wrote to Kenny on December 15th, 2011, after they met at a function in Co Mayo. “I now propose, as an aide memoir [sic] which I hope will be of use to you, to summarise the main points which I made when you invited me brief you on the society’s concern in relation to the Bill.” He insisted the society welcomed much of the Bill but took issue with a “bad choice of regulatory model” and expressed concern about measures he said would undermine independence.

Damage to profession

Martin Fraser, secretary general of the Taoiseach’s department, told the delegation it should seek to keep in touch with Shatter and justice officials. “He also stated that when he next met with the secretary general of the Department of Justice that he would mention the issues raised by the Bar Council.”

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