Friday 24 February 2017

Legal chiefs unanimously condemn Shatter's regulation Bill

There are fears that a regulation authority would be influenced by government, writes Emer O'Kelly

Emer O'Kelly

Why does the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, himself a solicitor, seem to be so unusually isolated in his promotion of the Legal Services Bill 2011? The minister was not available during the week to talk to the Sunday Independent, even briefly, but I was referred to his various statements on the matter, one of them an article which appeared under his byline in the Irish Times a few weeks ago.

The article discussed the proposed Legal Services Regulatory Authority which the minister's Bill proposes establishing because he believes self-regulation in the legal profession has not worked. He is certainly not alone in the belief, as evidenced by how often disgruntled members of the public who feel hard done by claim to have been badly served, only to have their complaints assessed as unjustified. That reaction is undoubtedly human, but it does not necessarily prove that the legal disciplinary process is faulty or over-lenient.

Mr Shatter believes that the Legal Services Regulatory Authority will have what he calls "structural independence". And on paper, it sounds correct, because its governance will "invest in its pluralistic, expert membership totalling 11 people appointed by the government [my italics] and including two each nominated by the Law Society [the solicitors' professional body] and the Bar Council [the barristers' professional body]; a legal costs accountant; and an officer of the Minister for Justice and Equality, [again my italics]. It must have a lay majority and a lay chairperson." Those are the terms as laid out by the minister.

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