Saturday 1 October 2016

Solicitors investigated on suspicion of 'bulk-buying' personal injuries claims from internet sites

Published 10/04/2016 | 02:30

'Barristers and solicitors face stringent advertising regulations aimed at preventing 'ambulance-chasing' and the development of US-style 'claims factories'.' Stock picture: Getty
'Barristers and solicitors face stringent advertising regulations aimed at preventing 'ambulance-chasing' and the development of US-style 'claims factories'.' Stock picture: Getty

Up to 20 solicitors suspected of bulk-buying personal-injuries actions from claims-harvesting websites are under investigation by their ruling body. Private investigators and web specialists have been hired by the Law Society, which represents some 12,000 solicitors, to link the activities of claims-harvesting websites.

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The investigation comes amid a public outcry over the spiralling cost of insurance premia.

The investigations are at an advanced stage and solicitors found in breach of regulations may be referred to the Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal or to the High Court, which may strike off solicitors found to be in breach of Ireland's strict policy ban on claims harvesting.

Barristers and solicitors face stringent advertising regulations aimed at preventing 'ambulance-chasing' and the development of US-style 'claims factories'.

Lawyers are banned from placing ads in locations such as hospitals or funeral homes. However, the European Commission has warned the Government that its strict ban could breach the EU's Services Directive.

Ken Murphy, director general of the Law Society, said it was "absolutely determined" to pursue claims harvesters as a matter of public policy and because the actions of a minority were unfair on the "overwhelming majority" of solicitors who comply with its advertising regulations.

"It is not straightforward to identify who is behind these sites, some are registered overseas," said Mr Murphy. "What is separate and more sinister is those persons who are not solicitors, who are behind these websites and 'hoovering up' claims with a view to selling them in bulk to solicitors".

The Department of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General have been engaged in marathon talks with the European Commission to ensure the recently passed Legal Services Regulation Act is in compliance with the EU's Services Directive.

The Services Directive only permits restrictions on advertising by regulated professions if certain criteria, including non- discrimination and proportionality, are met.

The Department of Justice said that new regulations, to be introduced by the Legal Services Regulatory Authority, would result in all solicitors and barristers being allowed to advertise their services "quite freely" and through a broader range of media than ever before.

But ads in funeral homes, or those which offer an inducement to make claims for personal injuries, will remain restricted.

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