Saturday 19 October 2019

Head of watchdog expects a spike in complaints against lawyers


Stock photo: PA
Stock photo: PA
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The head of the legal regulator expects there will be a spike in complaints against lawyers following the introduction this week of a new disciplinary regime.

Legislation transferring disciplinary matters for solicitors and barristers to the independent Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) will begin today. The move will see the phasing out of the current system, under which complaints are dealt with by the Law Society, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and the Barristers Professional Conduct Tribunal.

LSRA CEO Brian Doherty, a qualified barrister who has held senior roles at the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, predicted that, initially at least, there would be a rise in complaints against members of the legal professions.

"From my own experience with the Police Ombudsman and the Garda Ombudsman, there is usually a spike in complaints whenever a new agency comes in because there is the resultant media coverage," he told the Irish Independent.

"We have done some work and analysed the level of complaints and we are confident we can deal with whatever comes in under the new process."

The changeover is one of a number of major developments in the legal world this month. New legal costs transparency rules are also being introduced, while a new office is set to open to adjudicate on disputes over legal costs.

While the LSRA has been in existence since October 2016, it is still a work in progress.

Mr Doherty said it was in the midst of a large recruitment programme and would be moving to permanent premises in Stoneybatter, Dublin, in the coming months. It is only now taking up its disciplinary functions having had to prioritise other areas within its remit. Among the main changes in the disciplinary regime is that complaints will be considered by a complaints committee whose divisions will include lawyers, but will have a lay majority.

They will have a wider range of sanctions open to them than currently available to the Law Society's Complaints and Client Relations Committee. The most serious matters will be referred to a new independent Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal, which will sit in public.

Mr Doherty said another change would be that matters could be investigated where there was no complaint or where a complaint was withdrawn.

He said there would be an emphasis on seeking to facilitate informal resolution of complaints relating to inadequate service or excessive costs.

"One of the key messages is for both practitioners and complainants to engage in the mediation and informal resolution process because we think it can produce some good outcomes for both parties," he said.

Irish Independent

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