Strict rules on lawyers' ads to be relaxed
Ireland's strict rules on lawyers advertising their services are set to be relaxed after the Government faced the threat of legal action by the European Commission.
The Department of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General are in eleventh-hour talks with the Commission to ensure the long-awaited Legal Services Regulation Bill - due to be passed by Christmas - is in compliance with the EU's Services Directive.
The Services Directive only permits restrictions on advertising by regulated professions if certain criteria, including non-discrimination and proportionality, are met.
At present, barristers and solicitors face stringent advertising regulations to prevent 'ambulance-chasing' and the development of US-style 'claims factories' that have fuelled a personal injury compensation culture there.
Lawyers are, for example, banned from placing ads in locations such as hospitals or funeral homes.
However, the Government, which received a letter of formal notice from the Commission in October 2014, amid concerns our advertising restrictions are disproportionate, has introduced a new section to the legal services bill to address the commission's concerns.
A letter of formal notice is the first step under the EU's infringement procedure and resulted in a revised section in the legal services bill to ward off further action.
The Department of Justice said that new regulations, to be introduced by the Legal Services Regulatory Authority, will result in all solicitors and barristers being allowed to advertise their services "quite freely" and through a broader range of media than before. But it said ads in funeral homes, or those which offer an inducement to make claims for personal injuries, will remain restricted.
The Government says that it has "no reason to believe" the State would face legal action by lawyers who have already been disciplined for breach of advertising regulations, despite the fact that it was first notified of potential compliance issues two years ago.
The Law Society, the ruling body for solicitors, has confirmed that since 2013, almost 400 solicitors have been investigated for alleged advertising breaches, with some 176 investigated this year alone.