Briefing: Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011

21 March 2012

FLAC presentation on Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011 to Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality

Wednesday 21 March 2012

FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is delighted to have the opportunity to present its analysis around this very important legislative proposal from the perspective of an organisation committed to access to justice for every person in Ireland.

The legal rights organisation will provide an overview of its analysis in a short presentation to the Justice Committee by its Director General Noeline Blackwell, outlined below, at 2:30pm on 21 March. FLAC will also outline further reforms beyond the Bill which it believes are required to give effective access to the law.

Speaking notes:

FLAC presentation to Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice Defence and Equality
on Wednesday 21 March 2011

Speaker: Noeline Blackwell, Director General, FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres Ltd.)

FLAC, the Free Legal Advice Centres, is an independent non-governmental organisation founded in 1969. Since its earliest days, through the work of its volunteers and its staff, those who have been involved with FLAC have aimed to improve access to justice for everyone in Ireland. Throughout its existence, FLAC has provided free legal services which aim to give people the legal knowledge and information that they need in order to manage their daily affairs and to ensure that they thoroughly understand their rights, responsibilities, and the legal framework in which they operate. FLAC currently supports a network of volunteers in over 80 free evening clinics nationwide to provide basic legal advice, as well as supporting Citizens Information Centre staff and MABS staff with legal support. The public can also access basic legal information on our lo-call telephone information line. Between these services, FLAC gave free information and advice to over 24,000 people in 2011. At another level, operating out of a single office in Dublin, we undertake to ensure that the benefit and protection of the law is available to those who need it through our research, case work, our analysis and campaigning work.

That work depends on a small staff and funding from a variety of sources including both government grants and the legal profession. But it also depends on the generous and committed participation of our 650+ volunteers and of the staff and volunteers of various Citizens Information Services country wide. It is through this lens of access to justice that FLAC has analysed the proposed legislation.

As a law reform organisation, which has encountered the many frustrations of those who have difficulty in accessing law and justice, FLAC welcomes this once in a lifetime opportunity to effectively reform how legal services are delivered in Ireland.

FLAC is encouraged by several aspects of the Bill which have the potential to improve the general public's interaction with the legal profession. In particular, FLAC welcomes the concept of moving towards a more transparent system of adjudication of complaints and the proposed reforms which will result in greater transparency of costs generated by the Bill.

Building on FLAC's detailed analysis of the Bill, FLAC's presentation today will centre on four main points:


  1. Any new legislation in the area must reflect best international practices and standards, and therefore the Objectives of the Legal Services Regulatory Authority should be fully in line with the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers. In this regard, I refer to sections 2.1 and 2.2 as well as the beginning of section 2.3 of FLAC's submission circulated to members, and to recommendations 1, 2, 3 and 4;
  2. The new regulatory structure needs to be independent of the state as well as the legal profession - and it must be perceived to be independent. The structure should represent key stakeholders who have an interest in and can properly inform the regulation and oversight of legal services. FLAC has proposed a particular model which allows, we submit, for a wide variety of stakeholders. We would emphasise the need not just for figureheads, but for people who are genuinely knowledgeable and competent to be appointed to the Authority. In this regard, I refer to sections 2.3.1 and 2.3.2 of our submission, as well as to Recommendation No. 5;
  3. While greater transparency around how costs are charged is to be welcomed, the Bill misses an opportunity to put in place additional steps to actually reduce costs. Inefficiencies in the courts system, protective costs orders, class actions, lack of resources in the Legal Aid Board, and appeals against administrative adjudications having to go to the High Court all need to be looked at if progress is to be made in genuinely reducing legal costs for consumers. Much of the remainder of our submission relates to this, and recommendations 5 -7 and 9 - 17 refer. We would particularly draw attention to the provisions on limiting costs in public interest law matters, which appears at No. 13;
  4. FLAC feels that the promotion of new business structures (e.g. legal partnerships, multi-disciplinary partnerships) is premature and needs to be further examined by the proposed Regulatory Authority to see whether it is in fact the correct way to restructure the system. In this regard, our submission at section 3.2.1 and recommendation no. 8 is relevant.
    We also note that the Minister has indicated that he proposes to present certain amendments to this Committee which may adjust certain elements of this submission. We would hope that the Committee will have sufficient time and information to debate those amendments fully and FLAC is happy to offer any further assistance that the Committee might seek in relation to those amendments.

Overall, we believe that this Bill presents a unique opportunity to reform and improve the provision of equal access to legal services to people throughout the land. We note that the Programme for Government promises that increase in access as well as increase in competition. We submit that expanding the matters covered in the Bill as we suggest would indeed make access to justice more real for everyone in Ireland.

Thank you