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Legal Services Bill.

13 October, 2011

A LEGAL services regulatory authority, complaints procedure and independent disciplinary tribunal for the profession are among proposals contained in the Legal Services Regulation Bill, which was published yesterday. An office of legal costs adjudicator is also proposed.

The authority will be appointed by the Coalition. It will report to Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and to the relevant committees of the Oireachtas on financial and administrative matters.

It will establish a complaints committee, to which grievances will be put in the first instance and which will have the capacity to impose sanctions. The matter can be referred for informal resolution, including mediation. If the complaint is more serious, the authority will refer it to the tribunal, with a lay majority, which will also be appointed by the Minister. This will have the same power as the High Court to compel witnesses and the production of documents. It can recommend to the court that a lawyer be struck off the roll of solicitors or a roll of barristers, which are provided for in the Bill.

The authority will also be responsible for drawing up or approving codes of conduct for both branches of the legal profession, deciding on levels of professional indemnity insurance and supervising entry into the professions.

It will review provision of legal education and prepare a report for the Minister, ending the monopoly on education exercised by the Law Society and the King’s Inns.

The authority will assume the regulatory function exercised by the society and will employ inspectors to do so, with extensive powers to examine legal practices, including demanding records be produced.

The authority will report to the Minister within two years on the merger of the professions. The Bill also provides for the establishment of legal partnerships between barristers and for regulations on the setting up of multidisciplinary partnerships.

Rules preventing barristers from offering legal advice to the public, or from being employed and representing that employer in court, are outlawed under the Bill.

The wearing of wigs and gowns will be optional.

The Bill contains proposals to introduce clarity and transparency to costs and to provide for dispute resolution concerning these. Lawyers must provide a clear statement of expected legal costs in advance. They must also inform clients if these are likely to increase. A bill of costs must be drawn up at the conclusion of proceedings, in accordance with a list of considerations appended to the Bill.

Where a dispute about costs arises, either between the parties to the case or between a solicitor and client, it will be adjudicated by an office of legal costs adjudicator which will replace the existing High Court Taxing Master.

Final adjudications will be published except where the original proceedings were in private, as in family law cases.

However, the hearings of such applications will, unlike hearings before the Taxing Master, take place in private