HC Deb 02 November 1966 vol 735 cc459-61
43. Mr. S. C. Silkin

asked the Attorney-General whether he will take steps to have referred to the Law Commission the general question of professional negligence with particular reference to the decision of the Court of Appeal in the case of Rondel v. Worsley.

44. Mr. Hooley

asked the Attorney-General whether he will introduce legislation to enable members of the public to sue barristers for negligence arising from the performance of their professional work.

46. Mr. Whitaker

asked the Attorney-General whether he will take steps to ensure that equal exemption from liability for negligence applies to solicitors as to barristers.

The Attorney-General (Sir Elwyn Jones)

As my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor said yesterday in another place, it is possible that there may be a further appeal in the case of Rondel v. Worsley. It would therefore in any event be premature to consider the desirability of legislation on the subject of a barrister's liability for negligence and the related question of the liability of solicitors. I can say, however, that this is a matter to which my noble Friend is giving careful consideration, but he does not consider that it would be appropriate to refer it to the Law Commission.

Mr. Silkin

Would my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the result of this decision as it now stands is that a person who suffers loss, and perhaps severe loss, as the result of the negligence of his professional adviser cannot get any compensation in any circumstances? Does he not consider that any professional man worthy of the name would not wish to have that sort of protection.

The Attorney-General

The decision of the Court of Appeal was confined to what a barrister says or does, or fails to say or do, in the conduct or management of a case in court. That was the issue which fell for decision in the particular case. As my hon. and learned Friend has asked the question, the House may care to know how the matter was put by the Court of Appeal. It said: The immunity arises not because the law puts the barrister in a unique position. He is in the same position as the judge, a witness and a juryman. It has been well settled law for generations that all these enjoy absolute immunity from any form of civil action being brought against them in respect of anything they say or do in court during the course of a trial. The law recognises that on balance of convenience public policy requires that they shall have such an immunity. It is of great public importance that they should all perform their respective duties free from fear that any disgruntled and possibly impecunious litigant or other person may subsequently involve them in costly litigation. I apologise for the long answer, but this is an important matter. As I have said, my noble Friend has it under consideration.

Mr. Hooley

Would not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is wrong that the members of an important profession should be exempt from being sued for negligence in work done in the ordinary course of their professional duties?

The Attorney-General

As I have said, my noble Friend is giving this matter consideration. It would be premature to do anything either by way of legislation or otherwise at the moment, because the case in question has not yet reached its possible ultimate destination.

Mr. Whitaker

Without wishing to comment on the particular case, can my right hon. and learned Friend see any grounds for distinguishing between the two branches of the legal profession, each of which owes an equal duty to the court?

The Attorney-General

I confess that I personally find it difficult to distinguish between the duties of a solicitor advocate in court and a barrister advocate. However, this is one of the matters to which my noble Friend will be and is giving consideration.