The UK’s leading legal expenses insurer, DAS, which provides cover to millions of families and hundreds of thousands of businesses every year, welcomes the ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) clarifying freedom of choice, both regarding the appointment of solicitor and funding.
The ruling follows the Dutch case of Jan Sneller v DAS Nederlandse. Mr Sneller wished to bring a claim against his former employer. Under Dutch law, these cases can be brought without legal representation. On this basis, and relying on the policy wording, the insurer agreed to fund the claim, but only on the condition that it was handled ‘in-house’ by one of its employees, who was not a lawyer.
The decision in Sneller centres on whether a legal expenses insurer can determine when, under Directive 87/344, recourse is had to a lawyer. The Dutch insurer considered that, even though legal proceedings had been issued, the case should be dealt with by one of their employees and did not require the appointment of an external lawyer.
The Court felt that as proceedings had been issued it was not for the insurer to determine when recourse was had to a lawyer and, regardless of whether the case needed to be brought by a lawyer or not, the insurer should allow the customer to choose their own lawyer.
Richard Harris, Head of Claims, DAS UK Group says; “Whilst the Sneller ruling applies to all legal expenses insurers across Europe, DAS UK do not differentiate between cases where representation needs to be provided by a lawyer and those which do not require a legally qualified representative. We allow a customer to choose their own lawyer at the point when proceedings need to be issued. This is clearly set out in our policy wordings.
Importantly, the Court also confirmed that once legal proceedings have been issued, giving the customer the right to choose their own lawyer, the insurer is able to limit what it agrees to pay the customer’s lawyer, so long as freedom of choice is not rendered meaningless. This confirms the position set out in the UK Court of Appeal case of Brown-Quinn and another v Equity Syndicate Management Ltd and another  EWCA Civ 1633. “