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Barristers’ immunity abolished

Barristers’ immunity abolished

In a majority, but not unanimous, decision, the Court of Appeal has said barristers should no longer be immune from being able to be sued for damages over the way they have conducted a civil case.

The decision to abolish the immunity alters a long-standing principle of New Zealand legal practice that all those involved in conducting court cases should be immune from suit for negligence. The court has left open the question of whether barristerial immunity in relation to criminal cases should also be abolished.

A full bench of five judges heard the case of Lai v Chamberlains on 1 March last year and released its decision today (8 March). Four found in favour of abolishing the immunity while the court’s President, Justice Anderson, gave a dissenting judgment favouring retention.

Removal of the immunity applies to lawyers from law firms appearing in court as well as to barristers sole.

Although not parties to the case, the New Zealand Law Society and New Zealand Bar Association were given permission to join the proceedings as interveners and put their arguments as to why immunity should be retained. The question of any further appeal, which would be to the Supreme Court, is one for parties to the case.

“The NZLS is disappointed that our arguments did not prevail and we will be analysing the implications of the 54-page judgment thoroughly,” NZLS President Chris Darlow said.

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