Black Solicitors' Network says proposals could deny minority ethnic groups access to justice

Ethnic minority lawyers claim that the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s proposed overhaul of the legal professional indemnity (PI)?insurance market could deny whole communities access to justice.

The Black Solicitors’ Network (BSN), responding to the SRA’s consultation paper on the future of the assigned risk pool (ARP), said the authority’s proposal to abolish the pool – a fund of last resort for law firms unable to secure insurance on the open market – was potentially discriminatory.

Network chair Nwabueze Nwokolo said black and minority ethnic (BME) practices had more trouble getting PI insurance than other firms and therefore were over-represented in the ARP. She said that many ethnic minority firms would be forced to close if it were scrapped.

“BME firms invariably are located within communities where BME people live. If they close, these communities will be deprived of access to justice.”

Nwokolo said the network opposed SRA proposals to scrap the ARP or reduce the time that law firms could spend in the pool. But she added that the network and The Law Society’s BME Forum supported scrapping the current single renewal date for solicitors’ PI insurance.

The network will file a joint response to the proposed changes with the BME forum.

Nwokolo added that the BSN wanted the insurance industry to provide resources to support internal training on  mandatory equality laws around service delivery.

A spokesman for the ABI commented: “We are concerned about making sure the system is equitable for everyone. This is nothing to do with BME issues as far as insurers are concerned. We don’t have issues with any particular sector.

“We want to work with the SRA to bring in some long-term stability to the solicitors’ professional indemnity market.”

The SRA consultation paper, ‘Review of SRA client financial protection arrangements’, proposes a two-stage introduction of changes in 2011 and 2012.