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‘Heroism’ Bill will be the subject of ‘derision and confusion’

Ministry of Justice criticised by MPs for 'pathetic and embarrassing' Bill

22 July 2014

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Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan has said that the legislation was "without doubt the most embarrassing and pathetic Bill the Ministry of Justice has published since the department was first formed".

Describing the Bill as 'pathetic and embarrassing' Khan argued that there was no evidence to support the proposed legislation. "The secretary of state's energies, and those of his officials, would have been better spent rebutting some of the myths about negligence and health and safety. That would have been a better way of tackling the fear of litigation, given that the likelihood of a negligence claim is pretty small."

Khan also quoted Lord Young of Graffham's whose report, 'Common Sense Common Safety' from 2010, concluded: "the problem of the compensation culture prevalent in society today is, however, one of perception rather than reality".

Sir Edward Garnier QC, a Conservative MP and former solicitor general, also spoke against the Bill and said that it would become "the subject of derision and confusion".

MPs debated the second reading of the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill, or 'SARAH', in the House of Commons which passed second reading without division and will now be considered in a Public Bill Committee.

Justice secretary Chris Grayling introduced the second reading of the Bill. He said it would tackle "a culture of ambulance-chasing that all too often is about generating opportunities to earn fees, rather than doing the right thing".

Referring to a 30 per cent increase in personal injury claims registered with the compensation recovery unit over the past three years Grayling said that the Bill "does not rewrite the law in detail or take away discretion from the courts, but it sends a signal to our judges and a signal to those thinking about trying it on - by bringing a case in the hope that it will not be defended - that the law is no longer on their side."

Grayling continued: "We live in a society that is increasingly litigious. In a country where things are safer than ever, where our workplaces are less risky than ever and where safety standards on our roads are higher than ever, that should not be happening."

The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) has argued that proposed Bill is a licence for have-a-go heroes to cause 'needless injury' and warned that volunteers who work with children and elderly people will escape proper vetting, and rogue bosses may avoid their responsibilities to look after their employees.

APIL president John Spencer said: "The fact that this Bill adds nothing to the current law and is therefore a waste of parliamentary time is bad enough. But the real danger is that populist government rhetoric about the Bill will lead people to believe they are impervious to the law if they injure someone through their own recklessness while being 'heroic'."

Jonathan Wheeler, the vice president of APIL has previously questioned whether the introduction of new legislation is a victory for common sense. "The government says it wants to protect 'everyday heroes' from the risk of being sued for negligence. But how could someone who has negligently or recklessly caused injury to another be a hero in anyone's eyes? And in any event isn't this going over the same ground as covered by the Compensation Act 2006?"

If passed next year, the law will require courts to consider the context of an incident when a claim for negligence is brought by an individual. Courts will potentially have to give weight to people who were doing a good deed; give consideration to the care taken when organising an event, even if an accident later happened anyway; and consider if the defendant was acting in an emergency.

Grayling had told The Telegraph in a recent interview how he planned to 'slay health and safety culture'.

"It is about trying to restore common sense to the kind of situations which happen all too often and very seldom get to court - where somebody has an accident at work, it's entirely their own fault, they have got a perfectly responsible employer who has the normal health and safety procedures in place but that person does something dumb, hurts themselves and sues the employer anyway," he said.

 

Victims are far from dumb

Kathryn Langton is a solicitor at Your Legal Friend

"Grayling has undermined the basic levels of safety that employers need to provide to protect their staff. We work with victims that are far from 'dumb', as Grayling describes, but have experienced life changing injuries because they suffered through the action or inaction of their employers.

"Responsible, qualified solicitors understand what amounts to a breach of duty or negligence on the part of an employer. If an employee causes their own accident, then the simple fact is they are the author of their own misfortune and do not have a valid claim against their employer. Similarly, responsible employers have nothing to fear in relation to litigation.

"Clearly Grayling has pandered to insurance companies that would like to spread the false notion of a 'compensation culture'. I completely agree with shadow justice secretary, Sadiq Khan, that the figures this Bill is based on are inaccurate and out-of-date. We strongly urge the government to spend more of its time educating employers and employees on what consists of negligence rather than denying people access to justice when they have suffered an injury due to the negligence of others."

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