FG TD calls on Shatter to break legal circle ‘cartel’- Irish Times, May 30th

MARY MINIHAN

A GOVERNMENT backbencher has urged Minister for Justice Alan Shatter to break the “cartel” operating in legal circles when reforms of the profession are brought forward.

Fine Gael TD Joe O’Reilly claimed the Law Library and Law Society worked together “to artificially divide the work of a lawyer in two”, saying solicitors should appear regularly before the Supreme Court as advocates.

The Government has given a commitment under the EU-IMF memorandum to introduce legislation to provide for changes in the regulation of the legal profession.

The Legal Services Bill, which will establish an independent regulator and contain reforms to address high legal fees, is expected to be published in September, although an outline of cost-reducing measures could be revealed by Government as early as next month. Mr O’Reilly said the Coalition should be ready to “take bold and radical decisions” on the reform of the legal profession. “This is an item that should be top of the Government’s agenda. It makes no sense that a member of the public cannot go to a barrister to get the advice that he or she needs without paying a solicitor to formally ‘instruct’ the barrister in question. That kind of process has the hallmark of a cartel, and it’s wrong,” he said.

“Nor is it fair that the Law Society and the Law Library work together to artificially divide the work of a lawyer in two. It should not be unusual for a talented solicitor to appear in front of the Supreme Court as an advocate, but yet in practice it never happens. This again has all the hallmarks of a cartel.”

The Cavan-Monaghan deputy, who has studied law, also called for increased access to the profession and the promotion of internal competition within it as recommended in a Competition Authority report published five years ago. The report recommended changes in the provision of education for the two branches of the profession, ending the monopoly of the Law Society and the King’s Inns. Mr O’Reilly accused the previous government of ignoring the report.

Mr O’Reilly said he hoped Mr Shatter would bring forward “bold and daring proposals that will shake up one of the country’s oldest and most entrenched cartels”. He said there could be no growth without a reduction in cost base, “and we will not reduce the cost base without taking on those who artificially inflate it”.

The EU-IMF programme singled out the legal, medical and pharmacy professions as sheltered sectors which required legislative changes to remove restrictions to trade and competition by the end of September.

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Senator Joe O'Reilly representing Cavan & Monaghan 2010. | An ExSite website