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NON-MEMBERS of the Law Society's Accident Line panel of lawyers will effectively be barred from taking on conditional fee cases, it has emerged.
Vital insurance cover, to be launched by the society when the new regulations have cleared their final parliamentary hurdle, will only be available to Accident Line members taking personal injury cases.
New council member Peter Watson-Lee says the condition is a blow for high street firms.
He says generalist solicitors, with back-up from counsel, are quite capable of doing personal injury work on a conditional fee basis. But without insurance against the risk of being lumbered with the other side's costs, this will not be possible.
Watson-Lee, whose Dorset firm Williams Thompson is one of the 1,200 offices registered for Accident Line, says those who are not members will be excluded from yet another area of work.
But Andrew Lockley, the society's legal practice director, says panel membership is neither a society condition nor a clause imposed by the insurers.
"It is simply a commercial reality," he says.
He says it was important to negotiate a reasonably priced premium and this was possible by limiting insurance cover to panel members.
"We are not running before we can walk. It is a completely new approach to funding litigation," he adds. The insurance cover will not initially extend to medical negligence cases but negotiations will continue when the new regulations have been passed.
Roger Wicks, chief assessor of the society's medical negligence panel, denies that the insurance conditions are discriminatory.
"There is nothing to stop people arranging their own insurance," he says.