Seanad Éireann - Volume 144 - 18 October, 1995
Adjournment Matters. - Law Society Regulations.
Mr. Enright Mr. Enright
Mr. Enright: The decision of Ms Justice Laffoy in the High Court case of Alison Bloomer and Others v. The Incorporated Law Society of Ireland, Ireland and the Attorney General has  placed the Law Society's existing admissions procedure in turmoil. Since 1989 all students with law degrees obtained from universities in the Republic of Ireland were exempt from sitting the entrance exam of the Incorporated Law Society. Effectively, the judgment of Ms Justice Laffoy overturned the entire exemption system as it applied to all law graduates from the National University of Ireland, Trinity College and the University of Limerick.
The motion I have before the House this evening seeks to obtain urgent clarification from the Minister for Justice and the Law Society as to the existing situation. I speak on behalf of students who bona fide entered on a course in a university to do a law degree. They did so in the expectation that having obtained their degree and having passed the eight core subjects required for entrance to the Law Society, they would then be entitled to attend the solicitors professional course in Blackhall Place. Students sat for their leaving certificate and filled in their CAO forms choosing law as a career. The points they received in their leaving certificate reflected the standard of the competition. Many students would have followed courses other than law, courses that would have provided them with wider career options, were it not for the exemption clause.
There is a meeting of the Law Society on Friday, 20 October. I strongly urge the council of the Law Society to continue with the existing system. Students had legitimate expectations that they would be exempt from the Law Society exam. In justice and equity, the continuation of the existing system must be allowed for all students with law degrees obtained since 1989, and all students currently pursuing a law degree course in any of the aforementioned universities. It is essential that every effort is made by the Law Society to find a legal basis to allow people in the system at present to qualify as solicitors.
 The situation resulting from the High Court judgment has led to the suspension of the automatic entrance of 66 law graduates to the law society course in November. Similarly, law students who have already been accepted for future law courses, students who are about to be conferred and current law students, are as of now all placed in a state of limbo. The stress, strain and worry, together with the additional cost and expense should these people have to do the entrance exam, will place an intolerable burden on many of these students. To compel such individuals to sit this entrance exam would be unjust and inequitable. Many lives and careers will be damaged. Common sense dictates that a solution satisfactory to all of these students must be found. I urge the council of the Law Society and the Minister for Justice in the interest of fair play and equity to resolve this very sad and difficult situation.
I am confident that the Minister, her Department and the Law Society will do all they can in this matter. I await the Supreme Court decision at an early date and I hope I will not have to refer to the Minister about this matter again. I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for allowing me to raise this matter.
Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen) Nora Owen
Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen): I thank Senator Enright for the opportunity to make some comments on this matter. As this is a matter which is under appeal I propose to keep my comments brief. It is a matter which primarily concerns the exercise by the Law Society of its functions in regard to the vocational training of solicitors.
The background is that students of Queen's University Belfast took an action in the High Court against the Law Society, Ireland and the Attorney General arising from certain regulations made by the Law Society under the provisions of the Solicitors Acts. These regulations provided for exemptions for certain law graduates from the Law  Society's entrance examination to its law school. The plaintiffs were seeking a declaration that law graduates of Queen's University Belfast were entitled to similar exemptions from the society's entrance examination as those enjoyed by certain law graduates in the State, that the society was guilty of wrongful discrimination as regards Queen's University Belfast law graduates and damages against the Law Society. The High Court did not grant any of these reliefs.
However, the High Court struck down the Law Society's regulations providing for exemptions from the entrance examination. An immediate consequence of the High Court decision is that law graduates of universities in the State are no longer exempt from the requirement to sit the final examination first part — known as the entrance examination — to gain access to the Law Society's law school. Directly affected by the decision, as Senator Enright mentioned, are 66 law graduates who were due to enter the law school in November and law students pursuing law degrees who would have expected to have been exempted from the society's entrance examination. I understand the worry and uncertainty that these young graduates are now experiencing in the aftermath of the High Court judgment.
I have been informed that the council of the Law Society is to consider the issues raised by the High Court judgment and its approach to the appeal at its meeting on Friday next, 20 October 1995. I hope that the council will be able to take into account the very difficult position in which these law graduates and students find themselves. Clearly any decision taken by the council will have to have regard to the current legal position following the High Court decision and to the fact that the decision is under appeal. This appeal is to be heard by the Supreme Court on 12 December.
 I emphasise that the principal defendant in these proceedings is the Law Society. The Minister for Justice was not a defendant in the action. The regulations in question were made by the society under its statutory powers and I do not consider at this stage that it would be appropriate to comment any further on the matter pending the outcome  of the appeal to the Supreme Court. As Senator Enright said, we may well have to come back to this topic depending on the outcome of the appeal.
The Seanad adjourned at 9 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 19 October 1995.
Seanad Éireann 144 Adjournment Matters. Law Society Regulations.