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Solicitors play ‘essential role’ in protecting citizens’ rights
Ken Murphy, Michele O’Boyle and committee chair Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

28 Nov 2019 / law society Print

Solicitors play ‘essential role’ in protecting rights

Access to justice is central to Irish citizens’ lives, the Oireachtas justice committee heard yesterday (27 November).

Law Society President Michele O’Boyle, director general Ken Murphy, and personal injuries solicitor and Council member Stuart Gilhooly told the committee that solicitors play an utterly essential role in ensuring that the rights of citizens are protected and defended, against the might of the State.

Transactional work

This does not merely apply to access to courts, but also to legal advice and assistance in interacting with Government departments and agencies, as well as non-contentious and transactional work.

However, solicitors are facing increasing cost pressures as consumers ‘shop around’, and often have a number of solicitors looking after a variety of legal matters. 

The model of the ‘one-stop shop’ family solicitor taking care of all business, is increasingly challenged, the Law Society trio said. 

And, as businesses throughout the State employ solicitors to handle legal work internally, legal services are more intensely tendered for, resulting in better pricing and delivery for clients. 

Competition

The committee heard from the Law Society contingent that the legal market in Ireland has always welcomed competition as good for the consumer, and for the solicitor firms in finding new and innovative ways to deliver for their clients.

The Law Society has also welcomed the transformative provisions of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 which commenced on 7 October. 

Best outcomes

It is the professional obligation of solicitors to seek the best outcomes for their clients under the law, the committee was told.

“In pursuing that [obligation], the reasonable solicitor generally shows flexibility in terms of fees. Many solicitors provide access to justice, support their clients on a ‘no-foal, -no-fee’ basis, on a pro-bono basis, or with a pro-bono element,” said Michele O’Boyle.

The president pointed out that most solicitors live in the communities they serve, and build practices based on the quality and integrity of their service.

“It is, therefore, in the interests of the reasonable solicitor to charge proportionate and reasonable fees, and provide transparency in relation to these,” Michele O’Boyle said.

Crisis

Meanwhile, FLAC Chief Executive Eilis Barry told the committee that a crisis is looming if State legal-aid funding is not increased.

She said she feared that the courts were becoming confined to the wealthy.

FLAC was calling for a root-and-branch review of the civil legal-aid system to include funding of the Legal Aid Board. 

The disadvantaged have legal problems in accessing social welfare, housing and addressing unemployment, she said.

Effective access

Fianna Fáil's justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan TD asked if crime victims got effective access and protection in the justice system.

Responding, Ken Murphy said a failure to adequately fund the criminal legal-aid system has had an impact on individuals’ access to justice.

He said there has been no restoration of the cuts that took place during the economic crisis, despite appeals to ministers, and that the cohort of lawyers in this sector was aging, and that this would play out badly in the future in terms of access to justice.

Senior counsel Seán Ó'hUallacháin reiterated the need for increased civil and criminal legal aid.

Acute problem

He said that there was an acute problem whereby 70% of practitioners started out in criminal law, but had left by their sixth year.

He warned that if this trend continued, there wouldn’t be enough lawyers to represent people. 

Legal Aid Board boss John McDaid said that the board had provided services to over 18,000 new clients last year.

 

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