Saturday 25 March 2017

Lawyers subject to new watchdog in overhaul of legal complaints system

Original plan: Former Justice Minister Alan Shatter
Original plan: Former Justice Minister Alan Shatter
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

Bodies representing solicitors and barristers will lose control of the right to manage complaints against the legal profession.

New amendments to the long-awaited Legal Services Regulation Bill will mean that all complaints about the legal profession will be made to - and remain with - the Legal Services Regulatory Authority until a public complaint is fully prosecuted.

The amendments, to be brought forward tomorrow by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, will see the abolition of both the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and the Barristers' Professional Conduct Tribunal.

They will be replaced by a new Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (LPDT), which will handle all complaints about the legal profession.

This will include complaints of alleged fraud against lawyers and any misconduct complaints against a growing number of barristers who have chosen to practise outside of the Law Library system.

The Government will not assume control of the Law Society's €80m compensation fund.

This was a measure agreed three years ago by the Government to insulate taxpayers from exposure to the fallout of claims against solicitors who have acted dishonestly or fraudulently.

The cost of those complaints will rest with solicitors who pay for colleagues' dishonesty through an annual levy.

Under the new disciplinary procedure, complaints against lawyers by members of the public will be triaged by the authority which will investigate whether the matter is capable of informal resolution - such as mediation - or if it should be referred to a complaints committee and, if necessary, sent forward to the LPDT.

It is understood that the legal profession has not been briefed on the last-minute changes to the Legal Services bill which is expected to be passed before Christmas.

The Government was routinely criticised by the Troika over the slow progress of the bill, which was first introduced more than four years ago by former Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

However, the bill's progress has been hampered in the initial stages by opposition to the bill and, latterly, by huge amendments required to existing legislation that led to major pressures on draughtsmen in the Office of the Attorney General.

The setting-up of a new Legal Costs Regulator, to adjudicate on contested legal costs disputes, will start in January once the act is passed.

Irish Independent

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