Time concerns raised with Tánaiste over proposed legal services Act

Members claim transfer of functions should not come before new authority has necessary resources

The Legal Services Regulatory Authority was concerned by comments by Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald that the authority would be “fully-functioning” by the end of this summer. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

The Legal Services Regulatory Authority was concerned by comments by Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald that the authority would be “fully-functioning” by the end of this summer. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

Comments by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, that the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) would be “fully-functioning” by the end of this summer prompted the authority chairman to write to her expressing concern.

The authority was established in October of last year and is still in the process of appointing a chief executive. It has two executive staff, being an interim chief executive and a secretary, with the latter seconded from Ms Fitzgerald’s department.

At a meeting of the authority on January 19th the members discussed “uncited reports that the Tánaiste had announced that the LSRA would be fully functioning by the end of the summer, 2017”, according to the minutes of the meeting.

Following a discussion and concerns raised by members about the Tánaiste’s comment, it was agreed that the LSRA chairman, Don Thornhill, would write to her conveying the authority’s views.

The new body is to have responsibility for the oversight of both barristers and solicitors, among other matters.

The members were concerned that the commencement of the part of the Act setting up the authority, which provides for the transfer of complaints and disciplinary functions, should not take place before the authority is “properly and adequately equipped and resourced to carry out these functions”, according to the minute.

The authority, which was in part established to introduce increased competition into the legal services sector, was charged with producing reports within six months on two new ways in which legal services might be delivered.

Reports on both these issues have now been produced, with one, on the matter of multi-disciplinary practices where lawyers would work alongside other professionals, stating that their introduction would be likely to have a “negligible” impact, and the other urging that the introduction of change be delayed.

The experience of other jurisdictions that have introduced multi-disciplinary practices has been that there has been very little take-up, and they remain an “additional minority option” through which legal services are offered, according to a report commissioned by the authority from outside advisers.

“Since the model suggested in [the Irish Act] would, if the experience of other jurisdictions is an indication, have few, if any takers, then the impact would likely be negligible.”

The authority has said that at the end of an ongoing consultation it may recommend a model for such practices different to the one contained in the Act.

The authority has also produced a report on legal partnerships, or partnerships between barristers, or between barristers and solicitors.

It received eight submissions on the topic, with strong reservations being voiced by the Bar Council and the Honorable Society of King’s Inns about the overall concept.

The authority is to conduct further work on the topic and has recommended that the sections of the Act that govern the establishment of legal partnerships should not be commenced “until the authority is satisfied that the necessary consultations have been conducted and regulations and other necessary measures prepared so that a robust, yet workable and attractive framework is in place”.

The authority has received legal advice that, notwithstanding certain provisions in the Act, the commencement of the provisions providing for legal partnerships “need not” occur within six months of the delivery of a report on the matter, according to the report.