Shatter makes concessions on legal regulator

New body’s members will be nominated by independent agencies

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has moved to shore up the independence of the proposed new regulator for the legal authority after his initial plans were criticised for giving too much power to Government.

Lawyers’ groups said the minister was undermining the independence of the proposed Legal Services Regulatory Authority - which will regulate solicitors and barristers - by retaining the right to nominate seven of the body’s 11 members.

The proposal is contained in the Legal Services Regulation Bill, which will bring about a major shakeup of the industry but has been delayed since its publication in October 2011. The EU-IMF troika has criticised its slow passage through parliament.

Tabling his first batch of amendments to the Bill today, Mr Shatter told the Oireachtas justice committee the regulator's six lay members would be nominated not by the minister but by named agencies including the Citizens Information Board, the Competition Authority and the Human Rights Commission. He said this was a "good faith response" to concerns about the body's independence. "I'm anxious that those perceptions be put to rest," he said. "I've always been of the view, despite all the controversy, that it's very important that there's no doubt about the independence of the regulatory authority."


Under the minister’s amendments, appointments to the authority will be staggered so that a government could not remove all its members at once. A resolution of the Dáil will be required to remove any member of the body before his term comes to an end.

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn of Sinn Féin criticised the minister for bringing amendments on just four sections of the Bill to committee, saying yesterday’s meeting was merely a “symbolic gathering” before the summer break. “We need the full picture,” he said. “We’re being asked to vote on part of the picture without knowing the implications.”

Mr Mac Lochlainn suggested the authority should be increased to 13 members, with places at the table for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the business group Ibec. Mr Shatter said he would reflect on this.

Pressed on the cost implications of the proposals by Niall Collins of Fianna Fáil, Mr Shatter said a regulatory impact assessment was being done and would be published in the autumn.

Mr Collins also asked whether lawyers’ representatives, who will be in a minority on the authority under the current proposals, could be given equal representation with lay members. Mr Shatter said he hoped most of the body’s decisions would be arrived at by consensus, but added: “If it comes to a vote, frankly, it’s important that the authority isn’t controlled by the legal profession.”

The minister also rejected a suggestion by Mr Collins that the president of the High Court should appoint lay members to the authority.

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic is the Editor of The Irish Times