Shatter limits Government discretion in nominations to new legal regulator

Far-reaching Bill to go to committee on Wednesday

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has moved to limit Government control of nominations to the proposed new regulatory authority for the legal profession

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has moved to limit Government control of nominations to the proposed new regulatory authority for the legal profession.

The Legal Services Regulation Bill, published in 2011, gave the Minister the power to nominate seven of the 11 members of the proposed body, prompting lawyers’ groups to complain the Government was undermining the independence of the regulator.

The Bill, which would bring about a major overhaul of the legal profession, completed the second stage in the Dáil in February 2012 but its progress has been delayed since then. The EU-IMF troika has criticised the slow pace of its passage through parliament.

In a series of amendments due to be discussed at the Oireachtas justice committee next week, Mr Shatter has reduced Government discretion by specifying how each member of the Legal Services Regulatory Authority should be nominated.

Nomination categories
A majority will be non-lawyers, of whom one each shall be nominated by the Citizens Information Board, the Higher Education Authority, the Competition Authority, the Human Rights Commission, the Institute of Legal Costs Accountants and the Consumers' Association of Ireland.


Of the remaining five, two will be nominated by the Law Society, one by the Bar Council, one by the King's Inns, and one shall be a solicitor nominated by the Legal Aid Board.

The original version of the Bill gave the Government wide discretion to appoint seven members of the proposed body, which is designed to provide independent regulation of both barristers and solicitors for the first time.

Mr Shatter’s amendments, which were endorsed by Cabinet on Tuesday, also remove a number of references to ministerial involvement in the activities of the regulator, including the setting of a pension scheme for the authority’s chief executive.

The amendments to be tabled next week relate to just four of the 12 parts of the legislation, with the remaining eight expected to be discussed in the autumn. Some of the most contentious proposals, including those relating to legal costs and the creation of multidisciplinary practices, will not be discussed at the committee next Wednesday.

Committee chairman David Stanton called the Bill "a groundbreaking piece of legislation" that had been long awaited. "We look forward to the committee discussing it with the Minister and colleagues from all sides," he said.

Mr Shatter has said the changes to the way barristers and solicitors operate, including the creation of barrister/solicitor partnerships and multidisciplinary practices, will improve services for the public and create opportunities for young lawyers.

However, the representative group for barristers has said the new structures would undermine the provision of justice in Ireland and warned that there had been insufficient analysis of the potential consequences of the reform.

Added costs
The Bar Council has also warned the new structure would cost €5 million to €7 million to establish and €5 million to €7 million per year to maintain, adding a huge layer of cost to the legal system.

In a survey of solicitors last December, 70 per cent of respondents believed the Bill would not lead to a reduction in costs for clients.

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic is the Editor of The Irish Times