Barristers are likely to face higher premiums after their remaining immunity from professional negligence claims was stripped by the House of Lords.
Advocates were previously only vulnerable to negligence suits for flawed paperwork and faulty legal advice. They could not be challenged for negligent work in court.
The law lords have decided to remove this common law protection. They are to bring barristers into line with solicitors, who can be sued for negligence in the courtroom.
Kerry Falcon, chairman of Anthony K Falcon, which provides top-up cover above the £2.5m limit of the Bar Mutual Indemnity Fund, said the ruling opened the door to more potential claims.
He said: “The relative size of claims is unlikely to rise but their frequency may increase. It will be a gradual uplift.”
AK Falcon's premiums average £100 per £1m of cover and it receives up to 20 claims notifications each year. Some barristers seek up to £50m of cover from the top up scheme, whose lead underwriter is Royal & SunAlliance. However, the average amount of cover is closer to £5m.
Falcon said the highest professional indemnity award against a barrister to date had been for £500,000.
Patrick Gaul, partner in Weightmans legal practice, is concerned the law lord's judgment could give rise to more vexatious claims.
Mike Willis, a partner in professional indemnity with solicitors Beachcroft Wansbroughs, said that advocates' centuries-old immunity from negligence suits clashed with the universal principle of access to justice.
He said: “The law lords decided that the right of the individual to seek redress overrides public policy considerations.”
The Bar Mutual Indemnity Fund, which administers the compulsory professional indemnity scheme for 10,000 barristers, said it had no plans to increase its premiums in the wake of the law lords' decision.
Ahmed Salim, claims manager for the fund which is currently in surplus, said: “The ruling does have the potential to affect premiums if we receive an increase in claims.”
However, he added: “There is no certainty that this will happen.”
Salim judges that the criminal bar is potentially more at risk from claims than the civil bar, whose work is less advocacy-based.