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Law Society reform agenda gives ballast to PfG
Taoiseach Micheál Martin leaves Dáil/Convention Centre for Áras on Saturday, 27 June Pic: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

29 Jun 2020 / Law Society Print

Law Society reform agenda gives ballast to PfG

The Law Society has welcomed the inclusion of some key law and justice priorities with the ratification of the Programme for Government (PfG).

Launching the Law Society’s Programme for Government 2020 Synopsis, President Michele O’Boyle said: “We are heartened to see commitments from the Government on some of our priority topics in the public interest across the spectrum of law, crime, justice and reform.” 

The synopsis highlights key Law Society topics, including:

  • Family Law, 
  • Insurance reform, 
  • Hate crime, 
  • Victims of crime,
  • Online safety.

Crisis

“The Law Society has consistently highlighted the crisis in our family law court system,” President O’Boyle noted.

“We welcome the commitments within the PfG on a Family Court Bill, as well as a new Family Law Court building in Dublin and ensuring facilities around the country are suitable for family law hearings.”

“The Law Society has long advocated for substantial reform of the insurance industry. As we face into a period of widespread economic uncertainty, it has never been more important that decisive action is taken quickly to protect both individual consumers and the SME sector.”

“The clear prioritisation of insurance reform in the PfG, with specific actions to increase transparency, foster competition and tackle costs, is, I’m sure, hugely welcome across all sectors of Irish Society and business,” said President O’Boyle.

Deadline

“The Law Society has strongly advocated for the Incitement to Hatred Act to be substantially updated, so the commitment to introduce hate crime legislation, with a hard deadline, is most welcome,” said President O’Boyle.

Victims of crime

Other PfG topics welcomed by the Society include specific action to protect victims of crime and the establishment of an Online Safety Commissioner to consider the issue of harmful content with a view to enhancing user safety online.

The Law Society has consistently highlighted the crisis in the family law court system and the need for fit for purpose court facilities to accommodate these most sensitive of cases.

It believes that enacting a family court bill to create a new dedicated family court, within the existing court structure, will support a less adversarial resolution of disputes.

Dysfunctional insurance market 

The Law Society has advocated for substantial reform of the insurance industry and emphasised the need to attract international competition into Ireland’s uncompetitive and dysfunctional market.

The Programme for Government acknowledges that: “we need to ensure that insurance acts as a safety net that enables our economy and our society to fully function” and that “addressing high claim pay-outs and competitive issues will be critical in building an insurance system that is affordable and reliable and which underpins a vibrant economy”.

The document commits to “prioritising reform of the insurance sector with particular emphasis on motor, public liability, and employer liability insurance” and confirms that the Cabinet Committee on Economic Recovery and Investment will prioritise the issue of insurance reform.

Transparency

Specifically, the Programme for Government undertakes to “increase transparency, tackle anti-competitive behaviour, and foster competition by:

1. Giving the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) effective enforcement powers to punish and deter anti-competitive conduct.

2. Requesting the industry and stakeholders to give an assessment of the expected impact on premium levels of the key reforms being fully introduced.

3. Expanding, with urgency, the National Claims Information Database to employer liability and public liability to track the level of claims.

4. Establishing a databank within the Central Bank for new entrants.

5. Prioritising the establishment of a fully functioning European-wide single insurance market.

6. Working to remove dual pricing from the market.

7. Creating an office within Government tasked with encouraging greater competition in the Irish insurance market.”

The Programme for Government also commits to tackling insurance costs by “strengthening the Solicitors (Advertising) Regulations of 2002”.

The Society made a detailed submission to the Legal Services Regulatory Authority in November of last year in respect of its statutory power to make regulations around the advertising of legal services. 

Hate crime

The Law Society submission to the Department of Justice and Equality on its review of the Incitement to Hatred Act 1989, argued that the Act should be substantially updated so that:

  • ‘hatred’ is clearly defined,
  • protected characteristics are broadened (to include those based on gender, disability, civil status, family status and age),
  • the mental threshold required to prove the offence of incitement to hatred should be lowered to recklessness.

The Law Society welcomes the commitment to “introduce hate crime legislation within 12 months of the formation of the Government.

This legislation will create specific offences, to ensure that those who target victims because of their association with a particular identity characteristic are identified as perpetrators of hate crime.

This legislation will be on the basis of an aggravated offences model. It will be supported by training across the criminal justice system, as well as victim supports.

Victims charter

The Law Society welcomes commitments in the programme to fully implement both the Victims’ Charter (and establish a system to monitor its implementation) and the EU Victims of Crime Directive (to include the full provision of victim liaison officers). 

Harmful content

The Law Society has said that online ‘harmful content’ needs clearer definition, and that self-regulation among online platforms is not an adequate response.

It also called for the establishment of an online Digital Safety Commissioner.

Therefore, the Law Society welcomes that pledge to enact the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill and to establish an Online Safety Commissioner.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland