Barratry (common law)

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For other uses, including other legal terms, see Barratry

Barratry (/ˈbærətri/ BA-rə-tree) is a legal term with several meanings. In common law, barratry is the offense committed by people who are “overly officious in instigating or encouraging prosecution of groundless litigation” or who bring “repeated or persistent acts of litigation” for the purposes of profit or harassment.[1] It is a crime in some jurisdictions. If litigation is for the purpose of silencing critics, it is known as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP). Jurisdictions that otherwise have no barratry laws may have SLAPP laws.

International variations[edit]


In Australia, the term barratry is predominantly used in the first sense of a frivolous or harassing litigant. The concept has fallen into disuse in Australia.[2]

England and Wales[edit]

In England and Wales the common law offence of being a common barrator was abolished by section 13(1)(a) of the Criminal Law Act 1967.


Being a common barrator was an offence under the common law of England. It was classified as a misdemeanor. It consisted of "persistently stirring up quarrels in the Courts or out of them". It is doubtful whether in the ordinary way persons charged with commission of this offence were dealt with by indictment.[3]

In 1966 the Law Commission recommended that this offence be abolished.[4] They said that there had been no indictments for this offence for "many years" and that, as an indictable misdemeanor, it was "wholly obsolete".[3] Their recommendation was implemented by the Criminal Law Act 1967.

United States[edit]

Several jurisdictions in the United States have declared barratry (in the sense of a frivolous or harassing litigant) to be a crime as part of their tort reform efforts. For example, in the U.S. states of California, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington, barratry is a misdemeanor.[5][6] In Texas, however, barratry is a misdemeanor on the first conviction, but a felony on subsequent convictions.[7]

  • California Penal Code Section 158: "Common barratry is the practice of exciting groundless judicial proceedings, and is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months and by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000)."
  • California Penal Code Section 159: "No person can be convicted of common barratry except upon proof that he has excited suits or proceedings at law in at least three instances, and with a corrupt or malicious intent to vex and annoy."
  • Revised Code of Washington 9.12.010: "Every person who brings on his or her own behalf, or instigates, incites, or encourages another to bring, any false suit at law or in equity in any court of this state, with intent thereby to distress or harass a defendant in the suit, or who serves or sends any paper or document purporting to be or resembling a judicial process, that is not in fact a judicial process, is guilty of a misdemeanor; and in case the person offending is an attorney, he or she may, in addition thereto be disbarred from practicing law within this state."[8]


In his Inferno, Canto XXI, Dante places barrators in the Eighth Circle, eighth bolgia of Hell.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. Barratry at
  2. Discussion Paper 36 (1994) - Barratry, Maintenance and Champerty. Law Reform Commission, New South Wales. Accessed August 12, 2009.
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Law Commission, Proposals to Abolish Certain Ancient Criminal Offences (Law Com 3), paragraph 2
  4. The Law Commission, Proposals to Abolish Certain Ancient Criminal Offences (Law Com 3), paragraphs 7 and 8
  5. People v. Sanford, 202 Cal. App. 3d Supp. 1 (1988); 18 Pa.C.S. 5109. [1]
  6. Okla. Stat. tit. 21 § 550-551.
  7. Texas Penal Code section 38.12
  8. RCW 9.12.010 Barratry, Revised Code of Washington. Accessed 2012-3-3.
  9. "9 Circles of Hell (Dante's Inferno) - History Lists". Retrieved 2015-06-15. 

External links[edit]