THE Law Society, the ruling body for solicitors, has abandoned its fight to retain control over the handling of complaints against members of the profession.
Instead, a new state regulatory agency is to investigate complaints against solicitors.
The society, which has regulated the solicitors’ profession under supervision of the courts for almost 150 years, insisted that the "fundamental change" in its position was not because of any inadequacies in the existing system.
"The society believes that its complaints handling has always been conducted to the highest standards of fairness and objectivity," said its president, Donald Binchy, in a special email bulletin issued to all solicitors last night.
The society, which is fighting a rearguard action against Justice Minister Alan Shatter’s controversial plans to overhaul the legal sector, said that it agreed to the change late last month because of the need to address the public perception that solicitors should not be investigating themselves.
The move will put pressure on the Bar Council — the barrister’s ruling body — to make similar concessions to the Government.
Both ruling bodies, which also represent their members, have mounted opposition to some but not all elements of the Legal Services Regulatory Bill, which is currently going through the Dail. The bill will, if passed, strip both bodies of their investigative functions.
Until now, both branches of the profession had been united in their opposition to some of the more contentious elements of the bill. But last night’s announcement could drive a major rift between barristers and solicitors.
Mr Binchy said that despite the fact that a majority of lay people have, since 2009, been on its Complaints and Client Relations Committee, many members of the public viewed with suspicion the model where client complaints about a solicitor must be made to the Law Society.
The legal services bill, if passed, will refer all complaints by members of the public against both branches of the profession to a new quango, the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA).
The LSRA has been condemned internationally because of concerns that the Government will have too much direct control of the legal profession. Mr Shatter has indicated that he will bring amendments to the bill to address those concerns.