In the past year, the legal profession in Ireland has found itself under attack from several quarters.
Solicitors are currently heaving a collective sigh of relief
after the Government modified proposals which would have forced them to report clients suspected of evading tax to the Inland Revenue.
The so-called 'whistle-blowers' charter, section 153 of the Finance Bill, caused a rumpus among the legal profession with the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland taking the unprecedented step of saying it would advise its members not to obey the law if enacted as it was unconstitutional.
"We took the view that it would be unconstitutional as it was infringing rights against self-incrimination," said Irish Law Society director-general Ken Murphy, adding that it also adversely affected the right of access to lawyers and the
client's right of professional confidentiality.
The high-profile campaign won the day and the Government softened its proposals for lawyers while still maintaining a hardline approach to auditors and accountants and leaving lawyers with a competitive
advantage over accountants as far as tax advice is concerned.
"It's a very interesting connotation," says Beauchamps partner Robert Ryan, who adds that the exclusion of solicitors could affect the choice of tax adviser by companies.
It is not the only piece of legislation which has perplexed advisers in the Irish Republic in recent times.
The Criminal Justice Act has put the onus on banks to make a much more thorough investigation of customers opening accounts and a duty to focus on those depositing over IR£10,000. And in February, the Company Law review group published a report which focused on a number of corporate areas but particularly
Under the Companies (Amendment) Act 1990, a company in financial difficulties could apply to the court for protection from creditors. Even if there was security over the assets, it could still get its assets frozen. This meant that even though there were loans outstanding, loans could not be offset against deposits.
However, the money on deposit could be used by the
examiner. The Company Law review put forward proposals to favour the banks. Whether these will be accepted by the Government still remains to
More directly for solicitors, the enactment of the Solicitors Act not only creates an ombudsman to investigate complaints but also lays a duty on law firms to notify clients in writing of fee arrangements at the outset of a transaction.
"When you get instructions, you have to send the client a letter outlining the fee or an estimate or what the basis for charging will be," says A&L Goodbody managing partner Frank O'Riordan.
He believes that it is a positive development as it imposes a discipline on firms to keep clients updated as the transaction moves along.