A missed opportunity - Legal Services Regulation Bill

FOUR years on from Alan Shatter’s attempts to revamp the legal profession, the Legal Services Regulation Bill is on the cusp of becoming law.

A missed opportunity - Legal Services Regulation Bill

The Government’s intention is that this bill will now be enacted before the Dáil rises for the Christmas recess, so that the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority will be up and running early in 2016.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has made more than 300 amendments to Shatter’s original proposals, leading to charges that reforms have been watered down and will do little to end restrictive practices in both branches of the legal profession.

The original purpose of reform was to cut costs, introduce regulation and remove restrictions to competition. Unlike Mr Shatter, chose consultation over conflict and, in some respects at least, appears to have been more cunning than him.

Under her bill, the minister for justice will have the right to recognise professional bodies other than the Bar Council and the Law Society, which could prove a boon to younger members of both professions who often find themselves struggling to make a living. That will undoubtedly lead to greater competitiveness and help reduce costs.

However, the most worrying aspect of the bill is the retention by the professional bodies of control over legal education. That was a missed opportunity.

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