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Ireland’s government has denied the existence of any ‘hidden agenda’ behind sweeping reforms to the legal system imposed following the country’s bailout by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The minister for justice, equality and defence, Alan Shatter (pictured), was responding to growing international concerns, first reported in the Gazette on 1 December, that conditions imposed by financial institutions would undermine the profession’s independence. Bodies representing 1.4 million lawyers in Europe and North America last month warned Christine Lagarde, the IMF’s managing director, of the effect of reforms imposed on European governments following interventions by the so-called ‘troika’ of the IMF, European Central Bank and European Commission. In a joint letter, the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) and the American Bar Association (ABA) expressed ‘great concern’ about the imposition of radical reforms over the past year. The authors highlighted developments in Ireland, where the government last October approved publication of a new Legal Services Regulation Bill which, they say, ‘provides for far-reaching changes and reforms which are unprecedented in Europe and the United States’. Proposed changes include the establishment of a new regulator consisting of 11 members – all appointed by the minister for justice, equality and defence, who can remove any member at any time. The new regulator will have ‘all powers of regulation, including conduct, discipline and complaints-handling’, the letter warned. However, Shatter denied any attempt to compromise legal independence. ‘I do not accept the view that the independence of the new regulatory authority will be fettered, ministerially or otherwise,’ he said. ‘The bill specifically provides, based on precedent elsewhere in legislation, that the authority “shall be independent in the performance of its functions”. There is no hidden agenda in relation to ministerial functions or appointments under the bill.’ Law Society of England and Wales president John Wotton added his voice to concerns that ‘some of the reforms proposed by the Irish government may go too far’. The joint letter went on to refer to reforms in Greece and Portugal, also subject to economic bailouts. These reforms, the letter said, appear to have been ‘developed within a few weeks without taking account of the purpose/justification of professional regulation and without analysing the impact of such proposals on the administration of justice’. The letter closed with an appeal to Lagarde’s personal experience as a partner with international law firm Baker & McKenzie, which ‘no doubt carried important lessons regarding the need for protection of the lawyer-client relationship against intrusion by the state’. The authors, CCBE president Georges-Albert Dal and ABA president Bill Robinson, urged Lagarde to pass their concerns on to the other troika parties and request a face-to-face meeting.