Wednesday, 10 February 2021
Appointment of Member of the Legal Services Regulatory Authority: Motion
I thank my colleagues throughout the House for their contributions in support of today's motion to approve the appointment of Ms Deirdre Malone to the Legal Services Regulatory Authority. She has been put forward as a statutory nominee of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. This will enable a similar motion to be brought before the Seanad for consideration and approval. As I have said, Ms Malone's appointment, if so approved, will complete the current membership of the authority while also bringing her recognised expertise and experience to bear on its important work of regulation and reform.
The Legal Services Regulatory Authority has now come into full operational mode as a key component of the ongoing reform of the legal services and legal costs in the State. This includes the commencement, with effect from 7 October 2019, of a range of measures under the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015. These include the new public complaints and professional conduct regime, which is now in operation. The authority has appointed its new complaints and review committees to deal with allegations received.
Complaints are now made to the authority rather than through the legal professional bodies, as happened previously. More than 1,800 such files were open during 2020. Separately, this work will feed into the new and independent legal practitioners disciplinary tribunal, for which a chair and members were recently appointed by the President of the High Court, on nomination by the Minister, Deputy McEntee, following a public competition under the 2015 Act.
The authority has managed the regulated roll-out of limited liability partnerships for solicitors' firms, making them more attractive for international legal business. The new and more consumer friendly legal costs transparency requirements for legal practitioners, whether solicitors or barristers, have also come into force. The separate establishment of the Office of the Legal Costs Adjudicators to modernise the old Taxing Masters regime has been completed by the Courts Service. This is supported for the first time in legislation by a transparent schedule of legal costs principles and a publicly accessible register of determinations, which is maintained by the new office.
The authority recently completed two further statutory reports under section 34 of the 2015 Act, which the Minister, Deputy McEntee, has also laid before the Houses. These deal respectively with the possible unification of the legal professions and the reform of the provision of legal professional training and education. The Minister has also asked the authority to examine further the conditions of apprenticeship and devilling undergone by aspiring lawyers to further augment the reforms in this area.
New and more consumer focused legal services advertising regulations for solicitors and barristers were introduced by the authority in December 2020 under section 218 of the 2015 Act. The legal bodies no longer carry out this function. The new Advisory Committee on the Grant of Patents of Precedence, which considers candidates for senior counsel, be they solicitors or barristers, has been established with the administrative support of the authority while chaired by the Chief Justice in its own right. The second round of applications for appointment through this committee has just closed. The Minister has sought to encourage a renewed focus on enhancing the gender balance and diversity of potential applicants. Clearly, there is much important work to be completed by the authority in the ongoing performance of its regulatory functions. Today's motion can augment this in progressing the appointment of Ms Deirdre Malone.