Coalition delays 'one-stop-shops' for legal services amid dispute
THE Government last night delayed plans for 'one-stop-shops' for legal and financial services amid ongoing Coalition tensions.
The Cabinet did clear a major part of the long-awaited Legal Services Bill which will include appointing a new legal regulator with powers to supervise the operations of solicitors and barristers.
Both Fine Gael and Labour welcomed the agreement which they claimed would amount to the biggest legal reform in the State's history. But a long-running Fine Gael-Labour dispute about how Multi Disciplinary Practices (MDPs), or one-stop-shops, should operate caused them to delay their implementation.
It will now fall to the planned legal regulator to prepare a report on how inbuilt conflicts between barristers, accountants and solicitors, operating from the one business house, can be regulated.
The MDPs were put forward by Justice Minister Alan Shatter as a user-friendly way of cutting legal costs to businesses and consumers. They were particularly opposed by barristers and were the source of friction between Labour and FG leading to clashes between Mr Shatter and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore.
Explaining the outcome of yesterday's cabinet meeting, there were clear differences of emphasis between the parties. Fine Gael stressed the point that the principle of one-stop-shops was now enshrined in the draft legislation.
"The issue now is how best they will operate in the Irish market – not if they will operate," the FG source said.
The Labour Party agreed that the legislation provided for such one-stop-shops but stressed that the legal regulator will examine how to deal with the large potential conflicts of interest – raising the prospect that restrictions could end up making them too unattractive.
Both coalition parties argued they were not divided on the issue but the decision to return the issue to Cabinet for a future decision points to continued tensions.
The revised text of the legislation is due for publication later this week and will be sent to the TDs and senators' justice committee which is expected to deal with it before Easter.