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FTSE 100 Firms' Legal Liabilities Shoot Up

(c) Sky News 2013

The amount of money Britain's companies have set aside to cover regulatory and legal costs has shot up, according to legal publisher Sweet & Maxwell.

It said the legal liabilities reported by the FTSE 100 (FTSE: ^FTSE - news) companies jumped by 22% last year to £22.1bn - up from £18.2bn the previous year.

This reflects the amount companies set aside to cover regulatory and legal costs in 2013.

Aggressive fines are the main cause of the increase, Sweet & Maxwell said - rather than more legal cases between businesses.

The banking industry saw the sharpest rise following a year in which it was forced to pay out billions of pounds to customers mis-sold payment protection insurance.

Legal liabilities in the sector, which made almost 30% of the annual total, shot up from £991m in 2011 to £6.3bn last year.

But it was the oil and gas industry that was hardest hit, setting aside £8.1bn - although this was less than the £8bn clocked up in 2011.

The managing director of Sweet & Maxwell, Teri Hawksworth, said: "When the credit crunch started there was the expectation that legal liabilities would rise as commercial pressure led to more litigation between companies.

"What was not so widely forecast was that the biggest source of this pain would be from regulatory bodies."

These include the Financial Services Authority in the UK and the US Securities and Exchange Commission among others, she said.

Ms Hawksworth added that it remains to be seen whether the fines are a result of normal processes or because regulators and Government agencies are following public pressure to punish "big business" more severely.

Businesses are responding to the rise in these costs by broadening the role of in-house legal teams, she said.

"In-house counsel is moving from a role of just managing the costs of external law firms to clear up after a problem to taking a bigger role in ensuring that legal problems do not arise in the first place."

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