Lawyers stripped of immunity from prosecution for negligence

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The Independent Online

Britain's highest court has turned the tables on the country's lawyers, stripping barristers of their centuries-old immunity from prosecution for negligence. A committee of seven judges in the House of Lords ruled that barristers can now be sued over their conduct of legal proceedings. The law lords said it was no longer in the public interest for barristers to enjoy an immunity not available to doctors, accountants or other professionals.

Britain's highest court has turned the tables on the country's lawyers, stripping barristers of their centuries-old immunity from prosecution for negligence. A committee of seven judges in the House of Lords ruled that barristers can now be sued over their conduct of legal proceedings. The law lords said it was no longer in the public interest for barristers to enjoy an immunity not available to doctors, accountants or other professionals.

One of the seven, Lord Steyn, said the ruling ended "an anomalous exception" to the basic premise that there should be a remedy for a wrong. Barristers had argued that eliminating their 200-year-old immunity could lead to a conflict between counsels' duties to their clients and to the court and would unleash a flood of claims by difficult clients.

"There is no reason to fear a flood a negligence suits against barristers," said Steyn. "The mere doing of his duty to the court by the advocate to the detriment of his client could never be called negligent." The barristers' governing body said it was studying the implications of the ruling. "The vital thing for the future conduct of justice is that advocates remain free to assert their client's case without fear or favor," said Bar Council chairman Jonathan Hirst. "I have confidence that the judiciary and the courts will continue to ensure that this is the case."