Legal professions reform gave ‘little or no weight’ to consumers

Consumer protection chief Isolde Goggin critical of vested interests

Legal Services Regulation Act was signed into law in December after four years of delay, and a long lobbying campaign by the professions. Photograph: The Irish Times

Legal Services Regulation Act was signed into law in December after four years of delay, and a long lobbying campaign by the professions. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

The last government prioritised the concerns of barristers and solicitors and gave “little or no weight” to consumers when it watered down reform of the legal professions, the head of a State body has said.

Isolde Goggin, chairman of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, said the dilution of laws to modernise the sector and curb high legal costs was an “alarming” example of vested interests influencing legislation.

The Legal Services Regulation Act was signed into law in December after four years of delay, and a long lobbying campaign by the professions. Last-minute changes preserved key powers for the Bar Council, the barristers’ organisation, and the Law Society, which represents solicitors.

Enormous activity

Citing reports in The Irish Times

The treatment of incumbents was in marked contrast to the CCPC, the Health Service Executive and the Director of Corporate Enforcement, which had all expressed concerns about high legal costs.

“Looking back over the legislative process . . . the CCPC’s main concern is that the rights and interests of consumers were given little or no weight.”

Ms Goggin’s remarks, at the Burren Law School in Co Clare earlier this month, were not previously reported. The views were her own and not those of the CCPC, except where stated.

“Successive governments gave the Competition Authority, the National Consumer Agency and the CCPC statutory functions to provide advice to policymakers, and while detailed, evidence-based submissions were repeatedly made, it appears that the rights and views of those with vested interests in the status quo were prioritised.”

This led to a “treble whammy” of high costs for ordinary people: via taxation when State pays lawyers; via indirect costs for goods and services; and when engaging lawyers themselves. There was no immediate comment from the Department of Justice.