Tuesday 20 February 2018

Government reassures IMF of legal profession independence

New regulatory architecture will be independent in both “reality and appearance”

Justice Minister Alan Shatter
Justice Minister Alan Shatter

THE Government reassured the IMF that it will not undermine the independence of the legal profession following concerns raised in America, Europe and Japan about plans to overhaul the legal sector.

In a letter seen by the Irish Independent, the Government wrote to the IMF to reassure it that the new regulatory architecture outlined in the Legal Services Regulation Bill would be independent in both “reality and appearance”.

The Irish Independent has learned that the IMF was inundated with correspondence from a range of overseas legal bodies including the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), the American Bar Association (ABA) and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA).

The Troika are understood to have been “bemused” by the scale and intensity of representations by the foreign professional bodies including the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, an elite group of trial lawyers from 30 countries whose membership includes for President Mary Robinson.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter is currently drafting a series of amendments to the LSRB which will lead to independent regulation of solicitors and barristers.

The mammoth legislation, which runs to more than 120 individual sections, will allow lawyers to enter into alternative 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.

In the letter to the IMF, a senior official from the Department of Justice said that Mr Shatter was looking forward to “deepening” dialogue with the Bar Council of Ireland and the Law Society of Ireland which represent Ireland’s barristers and solicitors respectively.

But solicitors and barrister say they have had no formal contact with the Minister about the wide ranging law.

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

In a letter to IMF President Christine Lagarde, the ABA said that the legal services bill provides for far-reaching changes and reforms which are “unprecedented in Europe and the United States”.

Dearbhail McDonald and Fionnan Sheahan

Online Editors

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