Irish profession to get independent regulator as government prepares Bill

Ireland’s legal profession is a step closer to independent regulation and multidisciplinary practices after the government gave approval for the publication of the Legal Services Regulation Bill.

The bill follows commitments made by the Irish government following a bailout by the EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF), to take steps to remove restriction to trade and competition.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter announced the imminent publication of the bill yesterday (4 October), although it had been signalled for some time (12 September 2011).

Shatter said in a statement: “It’s a good day for the legal profession as well because restrictive practices which inhibit the delivery of legal services are being removed through new business models, anachronistic and unnecessary restrictions derived from regulatory rules which permeate the legal profession are outlawed and a structure is to be put in place which provides for the possibility of greater competition in the provision of professional legal training and a reduction in the cost of such training.”

The bill will provide for the establishment of an independent Legal Services Regulatory Authority, responsible for the regulatory oversight of both the solicitors’ and barristers’ professions in Ireland. That will be backed up by an independent complaints structure supported by a Legal Professions Disciplinary Tribunal.

Additionally, an Office of the Legal Costs Adjudicator will replace the current Office of the Taxing-Master, as part of an effort to bring the legal costs regime “out into the open”. 

Barristers in Ireland, who work independently, will be governed by regulatory legislation for the first time.

The regulatory authority will take over control of legal services regulation from the Law Society and Bar Council of Ireland. It will be made up of 11 members with a lay majority and a lay chairperson.

It will have the power to prepare codes of practice for the profession and regulate issues including advertising, professional indemnity insurance and the structure of the profession.

The bill also paves the way for a review of legal professional education that will see the provision of such education opened up to other providers.

A consultation is also expected to be launched with the aim of moving towards an environment where solicitors and barristers can practise in partnership or in multi-disciplinary practices. Solicitors will also be able to become senior counsel – Ireland’s equivalent of Queen’s Counsel – for the first time and clients will be able to instruct barristers directly.

The full text of the bill is expected within a week.