Wednesday 21 March 2018

British law lord warns against 'state control of the legal system'

Justice Minister Alan Shatter
Justice Minister Alan Shatter

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

A BRITISH law lord has warned against state control of the legal profession, expressing shock that the Government will be able to remove members from the board of the new legal regulator.

Baroness Ruth Deech, chairperson of the Bar Standards Board (BSB) -- which regulates the barristers' profession in England and Wales -- has also said that new laws to overhaul the Irish legal sector must be fully considered, tested and costed.

Baroness Deech was speaking ahead of as yet unpublished committee stage amendments tabled by Justice Minister Alan Shatter to the Legal Services Regulation Bill.

The legal services bill will lead to independent regulation of solicitors and barristers.

It will also allow lawyers to enter into alternate business structures (ABS) with other professionals, such as estate agents and accountants.

It could also see the fusion of the solicitor and barrister branches of the legal profession.

The peer told a conference on the regulation of the independent bar in Ireland that she hopes membership of the Legal Services Regulatory Authority -- which will regulate the Irish solicitors and barristers -- will not be determined by Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

"It struck me that there is an awful lot of government interference in your legislation," said Baroness Deech at the conference organised by the Bar Council, the ruling body for the country's 2,400 barristers.

Membership of the London-based BSB is carried out by an independent appointments panel with a lay chair.

But Baroness Deech said she was "quite shocked" to see that the Government will have the power to appoint and remove members of the new authority -- including the chair -- and that the minister will approve the strategic plan of the authority.


Baroness Deech said that lay membership of the board of the regulator was important to reassure the public that the bar was not acting solely in its own self-interest.

The Government has come under sustained pressure from the troika over its delay in introducing reforms to the legal sector and has moved to reassure the IMF that the new reforms will not compromise the independence of the legal profession or the judiciary.

The letter to the IMF followed a raft of concerns raised about the bill by bodies such as the American Bar Association, the American Association of Trial Lawyers and the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE).

The Bar Council has welcomed independent regulation, but has warned against key aspects of the bill including ABS and multi-disciplinary partnerships.

Irish Independent

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