Irish utilities body launches legal panel

The Northern Ireland utility regulator is creating its first-ever legal panel and is targeting ambitious mid-tier firms, having previously relied on Wragge & Co.

The Northern Ireland Authority for Utility Regulation (NIAUR), which combines the formerly separate regulators for electricity, gas, water and sewerage, aims to have its new panel in place by as early as May and will have an external legal spend of around £500,000.

Head of legal services John-Paul Irvine, a former associate at Irish giant Arthur Cox, who joined the NIAUR in February 2006, said he hoped the panel would encourage other Northern Irish government bodies to use firms outside the magic circle.

Irvine said: “This is partly driven by cost, but it’s also about coming into the 21st century. Northern Ireland has for a long time used Herbert Smith, Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy for public sector work, but I know we can get more competitive firms and a better deal, including really strong middle-tier firms.”

The NIAUR has used Wragges since 2004. It will look to appoint six firms to the new panel, which will be split into two sub-groups: general utilities law and Northern Ireland law.

Irvine added that he will hire two in-house lawyers.

The NIAUR was established by the Energy (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 and took on responsibility for water and sewerage this year.