Question to the Minister for Justice and Equality ( Mr. Alan Shatter, TD)
To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will consider the proposals by the Irish Institute of Legal Executives for formal recognition of the role and functions carried out by legal executives; if this will be provided for in the Legal Services Regulation Bill; if not, if he will consider exploring the issue further in future legislative proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
For WRITTEN response on Tuesday, 21st January, 2014
I have clearly set out the situation in relation to this matter in previous Replies to the House and in the course of its discussion on 15 January 2014 during Committee Stage of the Legal Services Regulation Bill which is now coming close to completion. I will, therefore, reiterate my views on this occasion.As the Deputy will be aware, the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011 does not make any provision in relation to the role or status of “legal executives” nor is any such provision envisaged. Any extension of the scope of the Bill beyond that of “legal practitioners” as so defined in terms of practising solicitors or barristers would have to be considered separately at some future time if it were ever to become an agreed policy or legislative objective. Moreover, it must be acknowledged that while legal executives have a range of recognised functions they are not a homogenous group and tend to provide support in discrete areas of legal practise such as those of conveyancing, probate, commercial or family proceedings and to have a range of personal qualifications appropriate to performing the respective legal tasks concerned. As set out on the web-site of the Irish Institute of Legal Executives Ltd. in regard to such legal executives, “he/she is often entrusted with the practicalities of progressing a given legal transaction initiated by the practitioner”. In very many instances, therefore, it is those Solicitors or other legal practitioners who are the principals of the legal practices or firms concerned who ultimately carry responsibility for the actions of their employee legal executives, including under the relevant legislative provisions and professional codes.It is clear from the correspondence I have received from the Irish Institute of Legal Executives Ltd. that the scope of their proposals to confer legal status and a whole range of functions on such a category of persons is extensive and goes way beyond their current functions and those measures to be introduced under the Legal Services Regulation Bill. They relate inter alia to “a right of audience in the District and Circuit Courts, before tribunals and, subject to review, subsequently in all courts”, and to the eligibility of members for quasi-judicial and judicial appointments (e.g as District Court judges or members of Tribunals). These proposals also draw heavily from the regulatory and practise models of England and Wales which have separate and very distinct histories and do not always correspond to those of our jurisdiction nor to those set out under current Government policy in the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011. As such, they are premature in a number of key respects and give rise to a range of substantive issues that cannot be addressed, in legislative terms, by merely adding a handful of provisions to this Bill.While recognising that there may be additional benefits and efficiencies to be found for consumers and for the legal services sector in a more developed role for “legal executives” in the future, the very far-reaching proposals being made on their behalf at this time lie beyond the scope of the Legal Services Regulation Bill impinging, as they do, on aspects of the courts and the judiciary. Such proposals, including their constitutional and other substantive aspects, will need to be considered carefully and separately on their own merits at some future time if they are ever to become matters of determined Government policy for implementation. Others, including that of the profession of conveyancer, will come to be considered in due course by the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority. As recognised by the Irish Institute of Legal Executives Ltd, based on the experience of its own members, it nonetheless remains open to legal executives, who are so minded, to pursue other careers such as those of Commissioner for Oaths or solicitor or barrister by way of capitalising on their acquired legal knowledge, qualifications and experience.