The Competition Authority’s (Authority) study into the legal profession, both solicitors and barristers, found that the legal profession was in need of substantial reform. The profession had many unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on competition; these need to be removed so that consumers can benefit from greater competition in legal services.
We made 29 recommendations to enhance competition in legal services.
The Law Society and the Bar Council have implemented many of the recommendations directed to them. For example, it is now much easier for barristers to switch to being solicitors and vice versa.
The most important recommendation was the introduction of an independent regulator instead of the present system of self-regulation by the Bar Council and the Law Society. An independent regulator would be in line with better regulation principles and mirror reform in other sectors, including the legal profession in other countries.
In November 2010, the Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the EU/IMF. The MoU included a commitment that, by the end of the third quarter of 2011, the Government must establish an independent regulator and implement the outstanding recommendations of the Authority. Read about Ireland’s EU-IMF Programme of Financial Support.
In October 2011 the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Mr. Alan Shatter, T.D published the Legal Services Regulation Bill. The proposals made in this Bill will substantially reform the profession. It makes provisions for the establishment of an independent regulator that will protect and promote the interests of consumers, as well as implementing the Authority’s key outstanding recommendations.
The Bill provides for:
A new, independent, Legal Services Regulatory Authority with responsibility for oversight of both legal professions
An independent complaints structure to deal with complaints about professional misconduct
The removal of the monopoly on legal professional training for solicitors and barristers in Ireland
The removal of restrictions on direct access to barristers for legal advice
The removal of restrictions on barrister partnerships
The new regulator to explore the possibility of a new legal profession of conveyancers in Ireland
In 2012, the Chairperson of the Authority, Isolde Goggin, attended the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality to discuss the Bill. She voiced our general support for the Legal Services Bill and the impact we believe it will have on consumers. Her statement also highlighted a few areas of Bill which we believe require further consideration and debate. Read her Opening Statement.
The Legal Services Regulation Bill is currently progressing through the Oireachtas. It is anticipated that the legislation will be enacted in 2015.