Fitzgerald pledges Legal Services Bill by Christmas

Minister says new authority should be in operation by January as part of reforms

Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald and Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Paschal Donohoe. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald and Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Paschal Donohoe. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Legislation to bring about the biggest change to the legal services sector since the foundation of the State will be enacted before the Dáil rises for Christmas, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Frances Fitzgerald, has said.

She was commenting at the publication of more than 100 amendments to the Legal Services Regulation Bill, which was first published in 2011.

The amendments were approved by Cabinet on Tuesday and are to tabled in the Seanad as part of the committee stage of the Bill.

Among the changes are provisions to allow lawyers to work in limited liability partnerships, something the Law Society has been pressing for since 2011.

The society’s director general Ken Murphy welcomed the change, describing it as a “giant step in the modernising of business models for solicitors’ firms in this jurisdiction”.

As matters stand, partners are personally responsible for debts over and above the assets owned by the partnership.

Intention

The establishment of the authority as an independent regulator is a key element of the Bill and the amendments include measures to strengthen its powers.

The Minister also said the proposed legislation would promote competition and help to reduce legal costs.

Among the proposed measures is a provision that would facilitate the 100-plus barristers who are not members of the Bar Council in establishing their own representative body.

The Bill will allow for partnerships where barristers can start up business either with other barristers or solicitors.

The Cabinet was told earlier this week that the Attorney General, Máire Whelan SC, advised that the Bar Council would take a constitutional case against a proposed section of the Bill prohibiting the Council from prohibiting members from providing legal services through a legal partnership or other new business model.

In order to avoid a lengthy constitutional case, the Minister decided to drop the proposal and instead provide that barristers and solicitors can join new business models, and also provide that professional bodies may not prevent or restrict their members from doing business with or through the new proposed business structures.

Multi-discipline

The new authority is to handle all complaints about all legal practitioners up to and including prosecution and will supervise the continued operation by the Law Society of its statutory functions relating to the Solicitors Compensation Fund and financial and accounts-related oversight of solicitors.