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Barristers body 'frustrated' over slow pace of legal services reform

System for settling costs disputes still not in place


Stock photo

Stock photo

Stock photo

The representative body for barristers has criticised the slow pace with which long-awaited legal services reforms are being introduced.

The Legal Services Regulation Act was signed into law in December 2015.

It allowed for an improved system for settling disputes over legal costs, as well as the introduction of an independent complaints and disciplinary system for lawyers.

However, neither of the measures has been introduced to date.

The Bar Council said there was "growing frustration" with the "slow pace" with which plans to replace the existing Office of the Taxing Master with a new Office of the Legal Costs Adjudicator (OLCA) are being implemented.

In a submission last month to the new legal watchdog, the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA), the council said delays in the taxation process were a frequent complaint by lawyers and did nothing to assist the development of the legal services market in Ireland.

"They also result in uncertainty for clients and lawyers alike," the submission said.

The OLCA will take over the adjudication of disputes about legal costs arising from High Court cases.

Unlike its predecessor, it will publish an online register of decisions, which will assist consumer awareness of the going rate for certain types of legal services.

It had been projected that the OLCA would be operational by the third quarter of this year, but the Department of Justice now says this will not happen until next year.

The LSRA has no role in the setting up of the OLCA, which is being handled by a working group involving the department, Courts Service and the Office of the Taxing Master.

In a statement, the department said the establishment of the OLCA was "a priority issue".

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Explaining the delay, the statement said: "A good deal of complexity is emerging in areas such as ICT, recruitment matters and other areas as the project is progressing."

A decision on how many adjudicators there will be has yet to be made. There are currently two taxing masters.

New consumer-focused regulations, placing more onerous obligations on solicitors to inform clients of costs, are to be brought in when the OLCA finally opens.

It is intended the changes will ensure clients are better informed about their likely legal costs as well as the work done at each stage of the litigation process and the fees involved.

Meanwhile, the Bar Council submission to the LSRA also said it was "disappointed with the slow progress" in commencing the section of the act dealing with the handling of complaints and discipline by the LSRA.

The legal watchdog does not believe it will be in a position to take over the handling of complaints until the middle of next year.

At present complaints are dealt with by the Law Society, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, which holds public hearings, and the Barristers' Professional Conduct Tribunal, which does not.

But under an independent new regime, all complaints will be handled through the LSRA.

The most serious of these will go before a new Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal, which will conduct hearings in public.

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