Seal of approval for liability review plan

SOLICITORS and their clients will be significantly affected by any legal changes resulting from a Government-driven review of the law of joint and several liability, claim partnership experts.

If the review recommends such changes, it could herald the adoption of proportional liability.

Ronnie Fox, senior partner of Fox Williams and a partnership law specialist, said: “The review is wonderful news. Joint and several liability is the nightmare for every firm of solicitors and accountants.

“I imagine a great many solicitors and their representative bodies will wish to give evidence on this.”

However, Roderick I'Anson Banks, a barrister specialising in solicitors' partnership matters, said: “While it has enormous attractions, it could be damaging to plaintiffs suing partnerships.”

The Law Commission is launching a feasibility study for the Department of Trade and Industry on whether a full review of joint and several liability would be beneficial.

The move comes after years of lobbying, particularly from accountants who want to limit the liability of their auditors.

Actions against auditors in big firms have surpassed the billion-pound mark, making some uninsurable as a result.

Charles Maggs, secretary to the Law Society's consumer and commercial committee, said the society would welcome proportional liability in relation to litigation against groups of contractors. He says that contractors usually rope solicitors into litigation because of their insurance cover.

However, the “more radical” proposal to remove joint and several liability between individual partners would attack one of the basic principles of partnership, Maggs said.