Lawyers' immunity challenged

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The Independent Online

An "outrageous" 200-year-old rule that protects incompetent lawyers from legal challenge should be scrapped, the Consumers Association says today.

If the incompetence of a barrister or other advocate means a client loses a court case or suffers loss, that client has no rights against the advocate who is immune from any negligence claim, says Keith Richards, the Consumers' Association senior lawyer.

"The rule serves little function but to protect lawyers and this leads to cynicism and distrust among the public. The right to redress is a basic consumer principle - the foundation of the legal process."

Next month, the Bar Council will consider a new complaints scheme under which the public can claim up to pounds 2,000 compensation if the barrister was guilty of misconduct or if she or he provided inadequate professional services. However, barristers will still be able to claim immunity from being sued for negligence over presentation of a case.

A Bar Council spokesman said immunity was not to protect lawyers but the legal system. "Barristers are unlike other professionals because they are 50 per cent on the losing side,'' he said.

"By the very nature of it, if someone is in prison for a criminal offence, what have they got to lose by suing the barrister? And if they are successful it calls into question the whole trial."