Solicitors' Firms Face Overcharging Disciplinary Inquiry
By Seán McCárthaigh
January 10, 2006
A DOZEN firms of solicitors are facing a formal disciplinary inquiry over allegations that they overcharged clients who received awards from the Residential Institutions Redress Board.
The Law Society of Ireland confirmed yesterday that it has referred 12 different legal practices to an independent disciplinary tribunal arising out of complaints from 22 individuals who were former residents of industrial schools.
Director general of the Law Society Ken Murphy said a total of 162 complaints had been received to date. However, he also highlighted the fact that the number of solicitors who have been referred to the disciplinary tribunal represented just over one-in-every 200 cases which had come before the RIRB.
He also pointed out that the vast majority of cases had already been examined by the society's complaints committee with the remainder due to be completed by the end of January.
Mr Murphy said the implication of having cases referred to the disciplinary tribunal was "potentially very serious" for solicitors.
If there is a finding of misconduct, the tribunal can impose a range of sanctions including fines, suspensions and striking off from the profession.
According to the Law Society, decisions have been finalised on 109 cases with hearings on 46 other complaints adjourned because of the need to make further inquiries.
The Law Society said its complaints committee which consists of both lawyers and lay representatives nominated by IBEC, ICTU and the Director of Consumer Affairs was unanimous in all of its findings so far.
The committee has also used its powers to order solicitors who have been referred to the disciplinary tribunal to refund fees with interest to their clients without delay. However, Mr Murphy said some lawyers had already paid back money following an initial letter from the Law Society.
Mr Murphy said the society was also checking separately with all clients to confirm that such refunds had been received.
He explained that the committee had decided in 87 cases that they no further referral to the disciplinary tribunal was warranted.
No deductions or additional charges had been made by a solicitor in 36 complaints, while justifiable charges had been deducted from awards in 29 other cases.
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