Shatter faces Euro court fight over legal reform bid
JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter's new Legal Services Bill to "control" the profession could be challenged in the European courts.
Mr Shatter has announced plans for a Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) and measures to increase transparency in costs. However, the moves have already led to disagreement at Cabinet.
The far-reaching powers include allowing the Justice Minister to appoint the chairperson and seven of the 11-member authority.
Critics say the bill will make the new body answerable to the Government.
Yesterday three international legal bodies together described his plans as "one of the most extensive and far-reaching attempts by a government to control the legal profession".
Marcella Prunbauer-Glaser, incoming president of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) -- which represents one million European lawyers -- said that the independence of the legal profession is a "fundamental value" of European law.
Any breach of that principle could lead to litigation before the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights, said Ms Prunbauer Glaser.
The CCBE has asked the EU commissioner for justice, Viviane Reding, to raise the Bill with Commissioner Olli Rehn.
Ms Prunbauer-Glaser was speaking at a conference in Dublin which was also addressed by former Chief Justice Ronan Keane who said that the new body for regulating the legal profession will not be independent of government.
"It is not enough to say it is independent," he said. "You must ensure that by the method of appointment, the level of remuneration and the method of dismissal."
Dr Mark Ellis, the executive director of the International Bar Association (IBA), said that while some measures were to be welcomed -- such as transparency in legal costs -- others were "dangerous" and had "very little to do with competition" in the legal sector.
He added that aspects of the Legal Services Bill constituted an attack on the independence of the legal profession normally associated with developing countries such as China, Iran and Vietnam.
Bill Robinson, president of the American Bar Association (ABA) said that cross-border trade would suffer and international companies will shy away from doing business in Ireland if the legal profession was under government control.
Mr Shatter has insisted that the proposed new regulatory authority, which will be funded by levies imposed on the barrister and solicitor branches of the legal profession, will have a "vindicatory independence".