Friday 22 September 2017

Shatter facing lawyers revolt

Minister on collision course over move to make further cuts in legal costs

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter is on a collision course with lawyers over further plans to slash costs in the legal sector.

He has invited submissions from representatives of solicitors and barristers on the planned reforms, but has privately admitted that their submissions may have little or no impact.

Under the EU/IMF bailout, Ireland has given a commitment to remove restrictions to competition in the legal, medical and pharmacy professions by the end of September.

Yesterday, the minister met members of the Bar Council and Law Society to consult on the Legal Services Bill, which deals with the issue of reducing costs in the legal profession.

The possibility of a strike by criminal law barristers was discussed at the packed meeting at the Criminal Courts of Justice.

Although no formal vote was held on the potential withdrawal of services when the new legal term begins in October, a straw poll on the possibility was held last night with over nine out of 10 barristers supporting such a prospect.

"The mood was fairly militant," said one senior lawyer. "We have already taken a 30pc pay cut, but the break in parity (between the prosecution and the defence) was the last straw."

The Bar Council will make formal submissions on further cuts in legal aid as part of the consultation process with Mr Shatter.

A spokesperson for the minister said: "The minister and relevant parties held constructive discussions on the Legal Services Bill, which the department is presently developing."

Ken Murphy, director general of the Law Society -- which represents 10,000 solicitors -- said he got the impression that Mr Shatter would not "be dominated" ahead of the publication of the bill.

Consult

"We were very grateful for the opportunity to consult, but we gained no particular insight into the bill other than to be told that it will conform with the memorandum of understanding agreed between the troika and the Government. The minister will clearly make up his own mind," Mr Murphy said.

Both branches of the legal profession had been previously denied an opportunity to make submissions on the planned reforms, which are being guarded by Mr Shatter. He has said the new laws would move the professions from the 19th to the 21st Century.

Mr Shatter is also embroiled in an escalating dispute with the country's judges over plans to reduce their pay.

A controversial memo on judicial pay, described by Mr Shatter as "inappropriate", will be removed from the Courts Service website today. But the damage was already done and relations between executive and judiciary remain frosty.

The standoff with judges stems from the Government's refusal to allow an independent body to set judicial pay.

Visitors to the Courts Service website doubled after Mr Shatter criticised its online publication of the memo as "inappropriate".

Analysis

Irish Independent

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