Bar Mutual fears claims onslaught

Bar Mutual, the private indemnity insurance fund for barristers, is increasing its claims reserves because of fears that solicitors' commercial insurers will seek to transfer more claims to barristers.

Until 2000, Bar Mutual only had to deal with solicitors' mutual insurer the Solicitors Indemnity Fund (SIF) when its members were implicated in claims against solicitors. But SIF closed in 2000 and solicitors turned to the open market for insurance.

Bar Mutual is now concerned that the commercial insurers representing solicitors, such as The St Paul and Zurich Professional which have the biggest market share, will be less scrupulous in passing claims to barristers.

Bar Mutual has recorded a deficit in its free reserves for what is believed to be the first time since it was set up in 1988. The deficit has arised because the fund has moved £2.275m into its claims reserves to guard against any increase in claims. There is also a possibility that barristers' premiums, which went down last year, will go up next year.

Bar Mutual chairman and head of Four New Square Justin Fenwick QC said: “We worked with and against SIF for many years. We're dealing with a new industry now that may have a go at shifting more claims over to barristers. It would be daft to assume that things will continue the same way. Because solicitors are now represented by new entrants to the market there may be more reason to try and make claims against barristers than under SIF.”

Fenwick also said that barristers' premiums rising next year would not be ruled out.

Richard Gerrard, communications manager for The St Paul, agreed that it was likely there will be more claims against barristers in the future. He cited the case of Hall v Simons in the House of Lords last year, which allowed barristers to be sued for their conduct in court.