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Shatter considering changes to Legal Services Bill

16 April, 2012

Addressing the annual conference of the Law Society in Co Cork, Alan Shatter delivered a wide-ranging defence of his Bill, which has been criticised by the society.

Responding to the charge that the appointment of most of the members of the proposed new regulatory authority, complaints committee and disciplinary tribunal by the government undermined the independence of the legal profession, he said he was considering various models for these appointments.

“One of these is the possibility of advertising through the Public Appointments Service for expressions of interest, and another, with which I would have a personal affinity, relates to the option of drawing from a pool of nominating bodies.”

He would also be bringing forward an amendment at committee stage allowing for the staggering of the appointment of members of the new authority to ensure continuity and not allow a removal of its entire membership at one sweep.

He said he was revisiting the complaints procedure to provide greater clarity on the independent appointment of members of the new complaints committee and the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal. He saw merit in boosting the role of the new authority in settling complaints, especially less serious ones, by agreement between the parties or by mediation before they got to the complaints committee or tribunal.

He rejected a plea from the Law Society that staff now involved in dealing with complaints for the society should be transferred to the new complaints body.

The transition to an independent complaints body would have an “undesirable impact” on some Law Society staff, he acknowledged, but said they could apply for positions with the new authority. “If there was a simple transfer of staff, the public perception of the body as independent would be undermined,” he said, adding that direct ministerial appointment of the staff would have a similar effect.

He disagreed with critics who argued the new regulatory regime would be more costly than the existing one, promising to publish a regulatory impact analysis of the new structures before the committee stage of the Bill. He said he would also provide an overview of the new regulatory architecture.

Proposals in the Bill for new business structures would create new opportunities for unemployed young solicitors and barristers.

These would follow a period of public consultations which would address key issues including direct access to barristers on contentious business, the possible unification of the two legal professions and the education and training of legal practitioners.

Mr Shatter stressed change was inevitable, and throughout the world new business structures and new regulatory models for the legal profession were being developed in many jurisdictions.