New legal regulator to probe complaints by summer 2019
The new legal regulator will begin dealing with complaints about barristers and solicitors by next summer.
The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) says it plans to have a fully functioning complaints system by the second quarter of 2019.
The long-awaited reform is outlined in a three-year strategic plan published yesterday.
At present complaints are dealt with by the Law Society, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, which holds public hearings, and the Barristers' Professional Conduct Tribunal, whose hearings are held in private. But under an independent new regime, all complaints will be handled through the LSRA.
The most serious of these will end up going before a new Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal, which will conduct hearings in public. Reports will also be published twice a year on the performance of the complaints regime.
Although the authority came into being in October 2016, it was required by legislation to prioritise other areas of its remit before turning attention to dealing with complaints. The body has yet to get permanent premises or to build up its staff.
LSRA chief executive Brian Doherty said he appreciated much of the external focus on the body had been in relation to the commencement of the complaints and disciplinary process. But he said it should be noted the organisation was "still in the fledgling stages" and this commencement "can only be properly and carefully managed once the resources and infrastructure are in place".
Under the plan, the authority is seeking to complete a roll of practising barristers by the end of the year. It will also be seeking to introduce a levy to be paid by legal practitioners, including barristers who are not members of the Law Library, by next summer.
The LSRA also plans that by later this year it will have introduced frameworks for new business models, including partnerships between solicitors and barristers, which are expected to bring down operating costs and prove beneficial to consumers.