AskDefine | Define barratry

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /ˈbæɻəʧɻi/


  1. the act of persistently instigating lawsuits, often groundless ones
  2. the sale and/or purchase of religious or political positions of power
  3. In the context of "admiralty|_|law": unlawful or fraudulent acts by the crew of a vessel, harming the vessel's owner.

Related terms

Extensive Definition

Barratry is the name of two legal concepts, one in criminal and civil law, and one in admiralty law.

Criminal and civil law

Barratry, in criminal and civil law, is the act or practice of bringing repeated legal actions solely to harass. Usually, the actions brought lack merit. This action has been declared a crime in some jurisdictions. For example, in the U.S. states of California, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, barratry is a misdemeanor, while in Texas, it is a felony. In England and Wales the offence was abolished in 1967.
Barratry also refers to the act of soliciting legal business from potential clients based on a particular event not just solely to harass. For example, an attorney who stops at the scene of a car accident or follows an ambulance to an emergency room in hopes of finding and soliciting business from an injured and aggrieved person might be accused of barratry. The lawyer who practices barratry is called, pejoratively, an Ambulance chaser.

Admiralty law

In admiralty law, barratry is an act of gross misconduct committed by a master or crew of a vessel which damages the vessel or its cargo. These activities may include desertion, illegal scuttling, theft of the ship or cargo, and/or committing any actions which may not be in the shipowner's best interests by the master or crew.


Barratry, when used elsewhere, may refer to the buying and selling of positions (which are expected to bring greater income in time) within civil authority. This venality is the secular counterpart of simony, which is the buying and selling of positions (notably benefices) within the church.
In his Inferno, Canto XXI, Dante places barrators in the Eighth Circle, fifth pit of Hell.


  • 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."
barratry in Dutch: Barratry
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