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Court case gives comfort to professional indemnity insurers

Professional indemnity insurers will welcome a recent Court of Appeal ruling that professional negligence claims cannot be used a platform for disgruntled clients to escape criminal prosecution or receive compensation.

Effectively, the Court of Appeal Court made it clear that solicitors should not to be used as the “fall guy” when unhappy clients are faced with a criminal conviction which should provide some reassurance to both solicitors and their professional indemnity insurers who provide cover against compensation claims.

In this case the accused was convicted in the Crown Court of cutting down 43 trees and creating a vehicle track on land known to be a site of special scientific interest. He pleaded guilty and was fined £450,000 and was ordered to pay £457,317 in prosecution costs. An appeal failed but the accused  was granted permission to continue his claim for professional negligence against his former solicitors to recover additional legal fees incurred as a result of the choice of court.

He alleged his solicitors failed to argue the prosecution was an abuse of process, failed to advise him to stay in the magistrates’ court, and failed to formulate any adequate or proper case strategy. The accused was basically claiming he was only convicted and sentenced because of his lawyers’ negligence.

This civil claim was struck out as it was viewed as an abuse of process and simply an attempt to have the criminal conviction set aside. He appealed to the Court of Appeal who ruled that civil law must be consistent with criminal law in relation to the scope of the professional negligence claims.

This case should act as a timely reminder to solicitors that costs should always be given careful consideration and that the Court will not be afraid to order a recovery when it is deemed appropriate to do so.

For companies seeking professional indemnity insurance, Richard Bowdidge, Director, Professional & Financial Risks is the W Denis Point of Contact on Direct Line: +44(0) 203 713 3976

Mobile: +44(0) 7503 630314  or

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