THE Law Society, the ruling body for solicitors, has lobbied the Government for the transfer of some of its senior staff to the new independent legal regulator.
The Society, which will retain its right to regulate solicitors' accounts -- despite plans to strip solicitors and barristers of their self-regulatory roles -- wants the equivalent of 16 full-time staff to be transferred to the planned Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA).
Justice Minister Alan Shatter said that while it would be helpful for the new authority to benefit from the staff's regulatory expertise and knowledge, there was a risk that the public would question the independence of the new regulator if they transferred.
The minister, who has clashed with Labour leader and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore over key sections of the bill which have yet to be finalised, said the transfer of Society staff to the new agency raised very substantial and complex legal issues.
"Would it create a risk that the public would perceive the authority was less than independent?" asked Mr Shatter at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice which sat yesterday to consider a series of amendments to the mammoth 2011 Legal Services Regulation Bill.
The committee heard that the Law Society accepted there was a perception in the public eye that the "legal fraternity investigated the legal fraternity".
But the transfer of staff to the new regulator won the support of a number of committee members, including Fianna Fail justice spokesperson Niall Collins, Sinn Fein TD Padraig Mac Lochlainn and Independent TD Finian McGrath. "We want to win the hearts and minds of the public from the get-go," said Mr Mac Lochlainn, who added that the transfer of staff would not undermine the independence of the new authority.
Mr Shatter said it was inevitable that the bill would be subject to "a considerable amount of fine tuning". He added that he hoped to finalise amendments to the bill within two weeks.