Two key appointments have been made at the Office of the Legal Costs Adjudicator, which has taken over the functions of the former Office of the Taxing Master.
The change is provided for in Part 10 of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 as part of a range of legal costs transparency and reform measures.
Paul Behan has been appointed as the inaugural Chief Legal Costs Adjudicator and Niall O’Hanlon as Legal Costs Adjudicator.
An aggrieved client will have the option of applying for the adjudication of disputed legal costs by the reformed and modernised Office of the Legal Costs Adjudicators, which was until 7 October known as the Taxing-Masters' Office.
Justice minister Charlie Flanagan said “The Office of the Legal Costs Adjudicator will play a key role in creating a modern system for the adjudication of legal costs in Ireland.
“Most importantly it will provide better services and a more transparent and user-friendly process for people who find themselves in need of legal services.”
The measures make extensive provision for a new and enhanced legal costs regime:
- Solicitors and barristers will be obliged to provide more detailed information about legal costs to their clients,
- This will be in the form of a Notice, written in clear language, which must be provided when a legal practitioner takes instructions. The Notice must disclose the costs that are involved, or, where this is not known, the basis upon which such costs are to be calculated,
- A cooling-off period is to be allowed for the consideration of costs by the client,
- When there are any significant developments in a case which give rise to further costs, the Act provides that a client must be updated and given the option of whether or not to proceed with the case.
Minister Flanagan said “The stronger obligations on legal practitioners to provide information on their legal costs is key and I believe it demonstrates the extent to which this Government is committed to making our legal services more accessible to the general public.”
The appointments were made in accordance with Section 148 of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015, with recruitment competitions conducted by the Public Appointments Service.
The Chief Legal Costs Adjudicator will hold office for seven years. Each Legal Cost Adjudicator will hold office for a period not exceeding five years, however they are eligible for re-appointment or to have the term of appointment extended, but shall not hold office for periods the aggregate of which exceeds 10 years.
The Act also provides for the establishment of a publicly accessible Register of Determinations which will disclose the outcomes and reasons for decisions made by the Adjudicators. County Registrars will maintain a similar register.
The Act will also introduce a system for processing more minor disputes about excessive costs, which will be the subject firstly of informal resolution attempts in conjunction with the Legal Services Regulatory Authority, but will then escalate to formal resolution where alternative dispute resolution may not succeed.
This can help avoid the monetary and other burdens on a consumer or enterprise which can otherwise arise under a formal taxation of costs procedure.
The charging of legal fees that are grossly excessive will be a matter of professional misconduct.