Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Department of An Taoiseach
Legal Services Regulation
The setting-up of the Legal Services Regulatory Authority has been under way since 19 July 2016 when, under S.I. No. 383 of 2016, I commenced those provisions of Part 1 and Part 2 of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 as necessary to get the new Authority up and running, particularly in terms of its membership and appointment. On 29 September 2016, I signed the Order appointing 1 October 2016 as the official “establishment day” of the Regulatory Authority as provided under section 7 of the 2015 Act - S.I. No. 507 of 2016 refers. In conjunction with these initial steps the nomination, approval and appointment procedures for the members of the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority set out in Part 2 of the 2015 Act were also completed. This has included the required resolutions approving such appointment having been passed by each House of the Oireachtas. Dr. Don Thornhill has also been appointed as Chairperson of the Regulatory Authority in accordance with the Act.
The Authority, which has eleven members including a lay majority and lay-Chairperson, held its inaugural meeting on 26 October 2016 and has been meeting monthly since then with its most recent meeting having taken place on 19 January 2017. Initial office accommodation has been provided for the Authority by my Department along with the secondment of an officer at Assistant Principal level in support of its start-up phase. Funding support of €1 million has also been provided to the new Authority by my Department in December on a strictly recoupable basis as the new Authority will be self-funding by levy. In the building up of capacity and resources to become fully operational, the Legal Services Regulatory Authority has recently appointed a person to fulfil the duties of its Chief Executive on a solely interim basis to drive the initial start-up phase. At the same time this will enable the Authority to prepare the way for the public recruitment of a full-time Chief Executive in the coming months having had the opportunity to more clearly identify its existing and future management needs and capacities in real time.
As part of the commencement of Part 2 of the 2015 Act, the Law Society, the Bar Council and the Honourable Society of the King's Inns have furnished the Legal Services Regulatory Authority with copies of their professional codes as required within one month of the Authority's establishment under section 23(6)(a). On 5 December 2016, under S.I. No. 630 of 2016, I also commenced sections 118 to 120 of the 2015 Act. These provisions set statutory delivery deadlines for the completion of public consultations and reports by the new Regulatory Authority on the specified matters concerned. These relate to Legal Partnerships, Multi-Disciplinary Practices and certain restrictions on barristers in relation to direct access on contentious matters and the holding of clients' monies. The working focus right now is on the managed roll-out of the Authority's remaining functions in tandem with the phased commencement during the year of the various remaining Parts and provisions of the 2015 Act.
The current focus includes the phased commencement of respective sections or Parts of the 2015 Act such as those dealing with the introduction of a more transparent legal cost regime, the establishment of a Roll of Practising Barristers and the separate introduction under the Act of Pre-Action Protocols. It also includes the transition of the Office of the Taxing-Master to that of the new Office of the Legal Costs Adjudicator which is a substantial structural reform of an office of the High Court and for which I have also introduced and commenced additional supporting measures under the Courts Bill which was enacted on 28 December 2016. Following these steps the key provisions centred around Part 6 of the Act dealing with the new public complaints and professional conduct and disciplinary procedures, and the appointment of the new Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal, will be commenced.
These are substantial tasks involving detailed preparation for which I know the new Authority, with the direct engagement of its interim Chief Executive, is actively building up its working resources in the short term. My Department and the new Regulatory Authority will, therefore, continue to liaise closely to ensure that we can successfully coordinate the identification of necessary steps and commencement, from my side as Minister, and delivery, by the Authority as the new independent statutory regulator, of the various provisions concerned.