Dáil Éireann - Volume 571 - 30 September, 2003

Written Answers. - Legal Profession.

  1100. Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will be establishing the post of ombudsman for the legal profession. [19637/03]

  1101. Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he has satisfied himself with the measures put in place by the Law Society of Ireland to address the concerns of [680] those who are dissatisfied with solicitors that they have engaged; and his plans to introduce new measures to regulate the profession. [19638/03]

  Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): I propose to take Questions Nos. 1100 and 1101 together.

  The Solicitors (Amendment) Act, 2002 strengthens the disciplinary regime for solicitors in a number or respects of which the following are examples. It doubles the maximum membership of the tribunal to cater for an increased workload and the speedier processing of cases. The tribunal is now required to make a separate finding on each ground of alleged misconduct. Regard must be had to previous findings of misconduct by a solicitor when imposing a sanction in the current case. The maximum amount which a solicitor, in respect of whom there has been a finding of misconduct, may be ordered to pay to an aggrieved party or to the Law Society's compensation fund increased from £5,000 to €15,000. There is a right of appeal to the High Court on all aspects of the tribunal's work. The Act provides for remedies against solicitors who fail to co-operate with investigations. The circumstances in which the Law Society may refuse to issue a practising certificate or impose conditions on a certificate are spelt out in more detail than before. The circumstances in which the society can send an investigator to inspect documents at a solicitor's office are also extended.

  The purpose of the new provisions is to make the disciplinary regime for solicitors more effective. Their operation will be kept under review. In that context, I would remind the Deputy that the Progressive Democrats election manifesto 2002 contains a commitment to establish an office of statutory ombudsman to protect the interests of clients of the legal profession. This commitment is not included in the agreed programme for Government between Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats. However, in the foreword to the agreed programme, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste state that, in government, it is open to either party to seek to persuade colleagues to pursue any individual policy included in their respective manifestos. Accordingly, it remains open as to whether proposals to Government for the establishment of a statutory ombudsman for the legal profession will be made.