My favourite speech of Pannick’s on this ridiculous piece of legislation is:
Lord Pannick: ...Mr Grayling, the Lord Chancellor, has told us—and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, has confirmed from his Antarctic experience traversing
crevasses—that men and women up and down the land are standing ready to volunteer for social action. They are preparing themselves for acts of heroism, waiting only
to receive the message that Parliament has approved this Bill to remove the concerns that they otherwise have about litigation. Then off to the youth clubs and old-age homes they will go to volunteer and into the lakes they will dive to rescue those in danger,
and in those circumstances it would be irresponsible of me to delay the Bill any longer.
noble Lord, Lord Beecham, was less than complimentary about the Bill, but surely, so long as negligence cases are brought in this land, it will stand as a monument to the jurisprudential and policy achievements of Lord Chancellor Grayling. It is a fitting
testament to the Lord Chancellor:
on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”.
was and it remains the most ridiculous piece of legislation approved by Parliament in a very long time. However, I pay genuine tribute—I emphasise “genuine tribute”—to the Minister, who has applied his formidable skills of reason and eloquence, and has done
so with consummate courtesy, to a text that would barely muster a pass mark in GCSE legal studies, if there is such a thing.
the noble Lord was appointed to his position on the Front Bench, he would no doubt have looked forward to debating important issues of law and justice, and I doubt that he expected that he would be the straight man in Mr Grayling’s comedy routine, requiring
courts to consider whether a defendant has acted heroically. Well, the Minister has heroically dived into the lake created by Mr Grayling’s conference speech. He has rescued this pitiful creature of a Bill—and it is a pitiful creature—and has emerged from
the lake with his hair still dry and his suit entirely uncrumpled, he is not even out of breath and he has done it all with a straight face. If I may say so, that is deeply impressive, which is more than can be said for this Bill.
Like section 1 of the Compensation Act 2006, I don't think these provisions do anything at all to the existing common law position for negligence. There are some theorists who argue that in determining negligence it is impermissible to look to whether the defendant's
actions are of wider social benefit, but that has not been arguable as a proposition of positive law in my lifetime.
The more difficult question is how these factors are to be taken into account (eg is it just a utilitarian cost/benefit exercise? A - No.). This Act, like the Compensation Act before it, says nothing about that.
One mystery is the reference to "breach of statutory duty". Historically, where an Act created a duty that was actionable by an individual, the question of whether liability depended upon proof
of fault was determined by its construction. Usually as legislation makes no mention of fault, merely instructing people to do things ("fence off drilling machinery") proof of fault was unnecessary. However breach of statutory duty primarily applied in cases
of health and safety at work regulations, and has been abolished in that context by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 section 69. In practical terms, this Act therefore probably doesn't matter much.
One view is that its only consequence of SARAH is to create uncertainty, enabling unmeritorious arguments of the form Neil makes. Arguably however it serves the useful function of signalling to a judge where the merits lie. Anyone relying on the
Act is so obviously desperate that alarm bells should ring.
It could have been worse. The NSW legislation creates a genuine immunity for foolish officious intermeddlers who, acting on a misguided good Samaritan impulse, injure strangers. We haven't had that.
Hopefully now that this government and the last have passed empty symbolic legislation like this to placate the Daily Mail that will satisfy beast. I doubt it though.
I would be very interested to know from UK colleagues whether there is any academic comment yet on the provisions of the Social Action,
Responsibility and Heroism Act 2015 (UK, 2015 No 3) which I see received assent on 12 Feb 2015 (but has not yet commenced). See http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/3/contents/enacted
This odd little Act purports to lay down "matters to which a court must have regard in determining a claim in negligence or breach of statutory duty” according to the long title, and provides
- In s 2, that the court must "have regard to whether the alleged negligence or breach of statutory duty occurred when the person was acting for the benefit of society or any of its members";
- In s 3, that the court "must have regard to whether the person, in carrying out the activity in the course of which the alleged negligence or breach of statutory duty occurred, demonstrated a predominantly responsible approach towards protecting
the safety or other interests of others”; and
- In s 4, that the court "must have regard to whether the alleged negligence or breach of statutory duty occurred when the person was acting heroically by intervening in an emergency to assist an individual in danger”.
Basically I have now given you the whole Act. It seems fairly obvious that this is a piece of “theatre” designed to deal with issues raised by the popular press. I did have a very quick look (thanks to a heads-up from Frank Cranmer at http://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2015/02/15/religion-and-law-round-up-15th-february
) to the debate at Second Reading stage in the House of Lords where Lord Pannick QC makes some very amusing comments (including :
the Bill puts me in mind of what Basil Fawlty says of his wife Sybil in the
celebrated television programme, “Fawlty Towers”. I hope that noble Lords will excuse this unparliamentary language. He said: “She should be a contestant on ‘Mastermind’. Special subject: the bleedin’ obvious”. )
But despite its obvious nature, and one would
hope the courts would treat it in that way, there seem to be some traps. Take, just because we’ve
recently noted it here, the swimming teacher case of Woodland.
In an action against the swimming teacher, would they have a defence because teaching swimming is “for
the benefit of society”? Suppose that most of the time they kept a proper lookout
for the children, but on the day in question the lifeguard was careless. Can
the company claim they were “predominantly responsible”?
Samaritan” provision in s 4 seems similar to the provisions introduced into
NSW law with Part 8 of the Civil Liability Act 2002
(NSW), which as far as I am aware have never been used. S 57
provides an immunity (http://www5.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/consol_act/cla2002161/s57.html
) but then s 58 deals with some
situations where the immunity ought not apply (eg the “good samaritan” was drunk or else caused the situation from which the rescue was needed), neither of which is discussed in s 4 of the SARAH Act.
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