SIF faces test case challenge. By Shaun Pye

A SOLE practitioner has applied to the High Court for leave to challenge his Solicitors Indemnity Fund (SIF) bill.

If Portsmouth-based sole practitioner Michael Dalton wins leave to judicially review the Law Society, when his application is heard in August, it will be the first time that SIF has faced such a challenge.

Dalton's application follows his refusal to pay his SIF contribution last year after it doubled due to the introduction of a formula for calculating contributions based on previous claims records.

Dalton claimed the rise was unfair because all but one of the claims were made against his old firm in the six months after he sold it in 1989. He said that although he was technically a salaried partner during this period, and left his name on the notepaper “for goodwill”, he took no part in the firm's activities.

Two appeals to the Law Society for his contributions to be waived were rejected, leaving Dalton with “no alternative” but a judicial review.

Sixty per cent of his new practice's activity is in property work and he expects to be hit with another massive rise in his contributions for 1998-99 this September because of the Law Society's new risk banding proposals, intended to make contributions more accurately reflect the type of work firms undertake.

This Tuesday, the Solicitors' Property Group will debate a motion on whether to judicially review SIF.

Dalton said if his judicial review was successful it could “open the door” for a flood of legal challenges to SIF. He said it was inevitable that SIF would ultimately crumble.

Andrew Darby, Law Society head of professional indemnity, said Dalton's appeals had failed because “his particular circumstances were not exceptional”.

A SIF spokeswoman said that claims loading had been introduced after a “a very long consultation period”.

The Law Society has faced numerous threats of similar action over SIF, in particular last year from the November Group of City firms.