Law Soc inaction on SIF is 'damaging profession'

The Law Society is yet again delaying a final decision over the future of professional indemnity, leaving the fate of the Solicitors Indemnity Fund hanging in the balance.

Council members voted at a meeting last week to delay – until the first week of March – a decision on proposals to dismantle SIF and implement a master policy alongside an approved open-market scheme.

The move follows criticism by council members that the late entry of the master policy proposal, sent to members less than a week before the meeting, hinders a well-considered decision on professional indemnity.

Michael Mathews, president at the Law Society, says: “We initially expected that there would be a final decision, in principle, at this meeting.”

He adds: “But further work should be done. If the council did make a decision we would be failing in our duty.”

However, council member Mike Howells says the society should be willing to make a decision now. “There are no more excuses for inaction. We have got to come to a conclusion on this,” he says.

The master policy came to light at the eleventh hour and was favoured by the policy committee as a solution to the debate which has been raging for over two years, signalling an end to SIF (The Lawyer, 18 January, page 5).

According to Mathews, in the run-up to the next meeting – which he proposes should be held before the special general meeting on 2 March – the Law Society intends to consult the profession and commercial insurers over costing details.

Mathews also insists that after a decision is taken in March, a new scheme should be introduced when the indemnity year begins in September.

However, Frank Maher, divisional managing partner at Weightmans says: “The Law Society has to grasp the nettle and make the decision. The uncertainty is damaging the profession.”

Howells also put forward, and lost, an amendment to rej-ect any proposals in the council recommendations for a levy.

The levy, which was not favoured by the Policy Committee, could be adopted if a mutual fund ran in tandem with approved open market insurance, and would mean all solicitors would have to pay money towards the mutual, even if they opted out.

See page 10 for full report