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Legal Services Bill proposes new regulator and more transparent fees

The Bill also proposes new protections for legal whistleblowers and removes the wig-wearing requirement for legal professionals in court.

Image: Steve Punter via Creative Commons

THE GOVERNMENT has approved the publication of the new Legal Services Regulation Bill which proposes to replace the regulatory functions of the Law Society and Bar Council with a new regulator.

The Bill also proposes removing the requirement for wearing wigs or gowns in court and allowing solicitors to become senior counsel for the first time. The Department of Justice says the Bill will give effect to key reforms included in the Programme for National Recovery and agreed with the EU, ECB and IMF.

Welcoming the government’s approval for the Bill yesterday, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said it was a good day for both the consumer and the legal profession:

It provides for greater transparency for legal costs and greater assistance and protection for consumers of legal services. It also provides an entirely independent dispute system to determine allegations of professional misconduct and a new system for legal costs adjudication where legal costs are in dispute.

He said it was a good day for the legal profession as restrictive practices inhibiting the delivery of legal services are being removed and structures being put in place which provide for greater competition in providing legal training, as well as reduced costs for that training.

The new regulator would have responsibility for overseeing solicitors and barristers, while a new legal costs office would assume the functions of the existing Office of the Taxing-Master, through which more information on legal costs and entitlements will be made known to the public.

New protections for whistleblowers who report misconduct in the legal profession are covered in the Bill’s provisions.

The Bill also proposes allowing clients nominate which legal professional should lead their case in court if both are involved.

Reaction

The Law Society is holding a special meeting this Friday to discuss the Bill, which is says will have a major impact on the legal profession. In a letter to members of the Law Society, its president John Costello said that representatives of the group had met with Minister Shatter for an hour in July to go over a number of issues which could be addressed in the Bill.

Costello said that the minister emphasised that no final decisions had been taken at that stage on the Bill’s content, but that the group was unable to secure a further meeting with the minister.

In his letter, Costello adds that the Law Society told Minister Shatter that it fully supports a move towards a “much more modern, transparent and predictable system for the assessment of costs in civil litigation”, but is wary of introducing changes to regulation which would result in increased costs for solicitors and fees for clients.

The group says it welcomed the findings and recommendations of the Legal Costs Working Group when they were issued in 2005 and 2006.

The Legal Services Regulation Bill is expected to be published within the next week.

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