Doubts at legal system reform

Doubts over whether the proposed Government reform of the legal system will ever be realised have intensified after the European Commission failed this week to address the issue when it made a number of other recommendations, involving cutting health costs, and tackling unemployment and mortgages.

The legal reform plan agreed with the EU-IMF troika, and later driven by then justice minister Alan Shatter, aimed to cut the cost of the courts system and reduce lawyers’ fees.

The long-delayed Legal Services Bill, introduced in 2011, outlines the biggest changes to the legal system in the history of the State.

The delays were a source of frequent criticism by the troika.

The draft law includes plans for ‘one-stop shop’ legal practices where barristers and solicitors operate out of the same business firms and also provides for an independent legal regulator.

The bill also seeks to set up an independent complaints framework to deal with allegations of professional misconduct to which the public will have direct access.

The introduction of the legislation was a key condition of Ireland’s EU-International Monetary Fund bailout programme.

However, the bill has yet to be enacted and may never see the statute books in the lifetime of the current Dáil. It has remained stalled ever since with periodic assurances from Government that it was being dealt with.

Ireland received four recommendations. They covered correcting the deficit, making the healthcare system more cost-effective, getting people back to work — including affordable childcare and restructuring mortgages in arrears.

The commission recommends that Ireland take measures to increase the cost-effectiveness of the healthcare system, including by reducing spending on patented medicines.

However, the commission was silent on legal reform, an issue that was one of the main planks of the troika’s thrust for economic changes in Ireland, insisting the country address the so-called sheltered sectors of the economy, including the legal profession.

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