The Irish government has insisted that legal reform to encourage alternative business structures ‘remains a priority’ despite another setback to the progress of legislation.
Reports in Dublin last week suggested government plans for competition in the legal profession were in turmoil after a cabinet row between deputy prime minister Eamon Gilmore and Alan Shatter (pictured), the justice minister.
Gilmore had objected to a planned amendment to the Legal Services Regulation Bill which would promote the creation of multi-disciplinary practices, similar to the ABS entities allowed in England and Wales.
The bill itself, which would also create a new regulatory body, dates back to 2011 and there are doubts that it can be kept alive next year with such divisions at the heart of the government.
In a statement, the Irish Department of Justice said ‘substantial, positive progress’ has been made towards the government’s stated policy of independent regulation and greater competition.
The statement said some amendments were agreed at a cabinet meeting last week, while those dealing with ABSs ‘continue to be discussed’.
‘These and similar amendments which will eliminate a number of ministerial consents effectively lay to rest those concerns about impinging on the independence of the legal professions or of the new regulatory bodies that had been voiced at the bill’s inception.’
The government said it intends to bring forward amendments to the bill prior to committee stage in mid-January.
The Gazette understands that Shatter and members of his department met the Legal Services Board and Solicitors Regulation Authority in November for an update on the rollout of ABSs.
The minister also met England and Wales justice secretary Chris Grayling during his London trip and visited a new legal business model up and running in the city.
Ken Murphy, director general of the Law Society of Ireland, said the government had yet to provide a conclusive argument for liberalisation of the market. ‘The case from reports in other jurisdictions that this would promote competition and drive down costs is weak,’ he said.
‘The effects of these structures is at best unknown and could be contrary to the public interest – there is a great deal of pro-ABS propaganda which is unconvincing. Like the overwhelming majority of jurisdictions we should wait and see the consequences of their introduction in England and Wales.
‘Given the absence of demand [in Ireland] we should wait for a few years.’