Saturday 10 December 2016

Reform of high costs tops list of new legal watchdog

Published 26/10/2016 | 02:30

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald Photo: Tom Burke
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald Photo: Tom Burke

Legal costs reform will be top of the agenda when the board of the long-awaited Legal Services Regulatory Authority meets for the first time today.

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The board has been mandated to prioritise the roll-out of measures to increase transparency surrounding legal costs.

An outline agenda for the coming months, seen by the Irish Independent, includes the issuing of a set of legal costs principles to solicitors and barristers. This will place extensive obligations on them to keep clients informed.

New protocols will also be introduced to cut down on the number of medical negligence cases going to court and encourage out of court resolutions.

A new Legal Costs Adjudicator office is also planned to be in place by the end of March next year, replacing the current Taxing Masters Office, which decides on legal costs where there is a dispute. The new office will keep a public register of its legal costs determinations.

However, reform of the manner in which complaints against solicitors and barristers are investigated is expected to take longer to implement.

Misconduct

The introduction of a new independent system for investigating allegations of misconduct is unlikely to be in place until next summer.

Today's board meeting comes five years after a bill to reform legal services regulation was initially introduced by then Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

The legislation encountered significant delays and aspects of it were changed following lobbying by the legal professions.

However, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has insisted this did not amount to "caving in" to the professions and that changes made the legislation better.

Ms Fitzgerald has said she hopes the new measures would help increase transparency and bring down legal costs.

High legal costs in Ireland were repeatedly cited as a cause for concern by European Commission officials during the bailout. Earlier this year, High Court judge Mr Justice Max Barrett also called for a systemic solution to tackle the "crushing cost" of High Court litigation.

Irish Independent

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