Wednesday 18 October 2017

Shatter agrees concessions on new legal bill

Justice Minister Alan Shatter
Justice Minister Alan Shatter

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter has agreed to a series of changes to the long awaited Legal Services Regulation Bill to ensure "no question mark" hangs over the independence of the new legal regulator.

Mr Shatter has made a number of concessions following concerns about the independence of the planned Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) and Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (LPDT) which will strip barristers and solicitors of their right to self-regulate.

People appointed to the regulatory authority will be nominated by independent bodies rather than requiring ministerial consent as originally set out in the 2011 bill.

"It is very important there is no doubt about the independence of the regulatory authority," said Mr Shatter this morning (WED) at a Justice committee hearing on the initial sections of the bill.

Mr Shatter said the changes will meet most if not all concerns of the opposition and the legal profession as they will "bolster, with legal clarity", the independence of the authority from the Government.

The new regulatory authority will have a lay majority with an "appropriate"gender balance.

All appointments must be resolved by both Houses of the Oireachtas, raising the prospect that some nominees will be rejected.

The bill has been awaiting committee stage since it completed the second stage in the Dail in February 2012 and is not expected to be passed until later this year.

Mr Shatter said that a regulatory impact assessment (RIA) for the bill will be made available at the end of the summer as ongoing work is being conducted on the mammoth law.

This would show respect for the various submissions the Government had received, said Mr Shatter.

Mr Shatter came under sustained criticism from Fianna Fail TD Niall Collins and Sinn Fein TD Padraig MacLochlainn who said that the number of people on the regulatory body should be increased from 11 to 13 members to broaden it's scope.

Mr MacLochlainn said that TDs were being asked to vote on a series of amendments without having the "full picture"  about the costs implication of the bill on both branches of the legal profession.

Mr Collins tabled an amendment to allow the President of the High Court to appoint lay members to the authority.

But this was rejected by Mr Shatter who said such a system could not ensure accountability and could lead to unsuitable nominations in the future.

"Why would the President of the High Court be given that role?" asked Mr Shatter.

"I am not suggesting that the current President of the High Court would do anything inappropriate.

"But we can't assume people in the future will always make the right judgments".

Mr Shatter said it was appropriate that a lay person be appointed as the Chairman of the regulatory authority to avoid perceptions that the new regulator is dominated by the legal profession.

Mr Shatter said he was also concerned that the body would start off "in a divisive way" if the members elected their own chairperson.

And he said that it was important that the authority was not "controlled" by the legal profession.

The hearing continues.

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