ICMSA says Law Society’s decision to ‘multiply’ solicitors acting in property transfers is outrageous and unnecessary
The President of Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA), John Comer, has described the news that the Council of the Law Society has approved the report and recommendations of its Conveyancing Conflicts Task Force to introduce a complete prohibition on a solicitor acting for more than one party in all cases involving the transfer of property as “a disaster for those who want to see Ireland’s cost structure made more internationally competitive and, very definitely, very bad news for Ireland’s family farm system”. The recommendations of the Conveyancing Task Force were voted through at the Council of the Law Society meeting that took place on Friday 13 by a margin of 25 votes to 4 and at its next meeting on September 7 the Council will adopt the final regulations prohibiting solicitors acting for vendors and purchasers even in the most mundane and straightforward inter-family property transfers. .
Mr Comer said that the conclusions the Conveyancing Task Force had come to were entirely favourable to the members of the Law Society and would certainly mean that families in the process of transferring property could now look forward to thousands more euro of legal costs. In the case of his own farmer-members, Mr Comer said that he could envisage the costs involved in passing on the farm to a son or daughter going from their present sum of approximately €3,500 to a new figure of “at least” €7,000. The ICMSA President said that farmers had traditionally enjoyed a very close relationship with their family solicitors but that this longstanding bond could only be threatened by what would be perceived to be an attempt to drum up huge fees by carefully exaggerating the problems around inter-family property transfers and then placing the onus for removing these exaggerated threats on their clients rather than relying on their own professional competence and regulation.
“The Conveyancing Task Force’s report has clearly exaggerated the incidence and level of undue influence and elder abuse in order to justify the prohibition on solicitors acting for both parties in the transfer of property. ICMSA’s position on this is very simple and straightforward: If the Law Society is worried about undue influence being exercised on elders – and no-one denies that possibility – then the onus and responsibility is on the Law Society itself to set out in strict detail the circumstances where their members cannot act for both parties. In other words, they should set out for their members the regulations governing those situations. Rather than accept that responsibility, the Law Society proposes to ignore the old axiom that ‘hard cases make bad law’ and completely forbid a single solicitor acting for both parties in even the most straightforward cases like a parent transferring a house or a farm to a child. That kind of case will now involve at least two solicitors – and very significantly, the farm will have to pay two times the fees. Where the fees could have been approximately calculated at €4000 we can now look forward to fees of €8000. It is absolutely outrageous, unnecessary and a perfect example of the syndrome where professionals inIreland were allowed set their own fees at the catastrophic expense of the economy and the public”, said Mr Comer.
He also noted the lack of any upper limit in the number of solicitors firms the Law Society’s report envisaged being involved and asked what the Law Society’s attitude would be in the thousands of cases where a property was being left or transferred to multiple members of the same family. “Are we being asked to accept a situation where a property or farm is being left to three or four children or siblings, all of whom will then have to engage their own specific firms of solicitors, all of whom will then charge their own fees? In that case, the public is being asked to go from a situation where one firm of solicitors – and one set of fees – is involved in an inter-family transfer to this proposal where three or four sets of solicitors – and three or four sets of fees – are all involved in the transfer of, say, a parent to his or her children. The net value of an asset like a family farm will be hugely diminished”, observed Mr Comer.
“There is a bigger issue here and it is one to which I urgently direct the Government’s attention. Is it still acceptable, in this day and age and after the events of the last five years, that we have a situation where a professional association such as the Law Society is, effectively, allowed to make law that could very easily be interpreted as benefiting its members without any Dail or public debate? Is that right? Is it satisfactory? If the recommendations of the Task Force are approved by the Law Society then they have the force of law in the form of a statutory instrument subject only to the consent of the President of the High Court. Would farmers organisations be allowed make their own decisions law? Would any other representative body inIreland? ICMSA has already sent the Law Society our specific objections and proposals and we will resist this unnecessary and expensive solution that favours the solicitors and disadvantages everyone else”, said Mr Comer.
Ends 16 July 2012.
John Comer, 08-2057846
President of ICMSA
Cathal MacCarthy, 087-6168758
ICMSA Press Office