Gilmore and Shatter clash over proposed legal Bill

Heated exchanges at Cabinet over objection to planned amendment

Eamon Gilmore: objected to proposal for  the creation of one-stop shops for consumers in which solicitors and barristers could work together along with other professionals like accountants.

Eamon Gilmore: objected to proposal for the creation of one-stop shops for consumers in which solicitors and barristers could work together along with other professionals like accountants.

 

A key part of the Government’s plan to create competition in the legal profession has been long-fingered after a Cabinet row between Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, The Irish Times has learned.

There were heated exchanges between the two men at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting when Mr Gilmore objected to a planned amendment to the Legal Services Bill.

The amendment, proposed by Mr Shatter, was designed to promote the creation of one-stop shops for consumers in which solicitors and barristers could work together along with other professionals like accountants.

The Bill published in 2011 provided for the establishment of multidisciplinary practices in which barristers and solicitors would come together to provide legal services.

Second stage
While the Bill passed its second stage almost 18 months ago it has since been held up due to a delay in drafting a range of amendments for the committee stage that are required to give full effect to its provisions.

One of the amendments was designed to provide a regulatory framework for multidisciplinary practices. Without regulation they are unlikely to get off the ground. This amendment has now been sent for review following the objections raised yesterday by Mr Gilmore, while the other amendments to the Bill will be published after Christmas.

Furious at decision
Mr Shatter was reported to be furious at the decision to review the amendment. “The Bar Council has nobbled the Labour Party and the consumer is going to suffer as a result,” said one Government source after the Cabinet meeting.

The source added that it was no coincidence the objections raised by Mr Gilmore were exactly the same as those put forward by the Bar Council, which represents barristers. However, Labour sources said multidisciplinary practices are the only area where they have concerns and claimed potential conflicts of interest could arise if lawyers and accountants in the one office were advising the same clients. It was also claimed the practices could “lead to the consolidation of large legal firms to the detriment of smaller ones” as well as having a serious effect “over access to justice”.

Labour has had these concerns for two years, the source added, and had no objections to other aspects of the Bill.

It could be enacted without the practices, which could then be referred to the new legal regulator which the Bill will also establish.