Final reading in the House of Lords for the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill

On January 6, the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill received its final reading in the House of Lords. The Bill is aimed primarily at personal injury claims and is introduces a requirement for Courts to consider the context of negligence or a breach of duty of care.

In cases where a negligent act or failure to act by a defendant was of 'benefit to society', or where the act or omission occurred in the context of a defendant demonstrating a 'predominantly responsible approach' in protecting the safety of others, the Bill aims to recognise such interventions as 'heroic'.

The Bill is intended to protect volunteers and employers who may otherwise be reluctant to perform actions or organise events due to the risk of a personal injury claim. The wording of the Bill has been criticised in some quarters for its brevity and lack of clarity. A number of new terms are used in the bill without precise definition, requiring the Courts to define their meaning should the legislation come into force.

If a defendant's action was found to be 'for the benefit of society or any of its members', Judges will be entitled to factor this into their decision, although it will not comprise a defence in of itself. The Bill does to state what weight the Courts are required to give to this factor.

The broad wording of the Bill may encompass a wide range of circumstances, with cases such as employers in the public sector potentially awarded protection insofar as they act 'for the benefit of society or any of its members'. The phrasing of a 'predominately responsible approach' in protecting the safety or interests of others could be applicable to medical professionals generally.

The 'heroism' clause of the Bill, clause 4, is open to extensive interpretation by the Courts, and it is not clear to what extent the protection or consideration offered by this clause interacts with that described in the other clauses of the Bill. Can emergency services at the scene of an accident be described as 'heroic' under the clause in addition to acting in a 'predominantly responsible approach', or will the 'heroism' clause apply only to volunteers and 'have-a-go heroes' at the scene?

The response by Judges to the Bill has been largely critical. In defence of the Bill, Chris Grayling MP said:

"The bill will not change this overarching legal framework, but it will direct the courts to consider particular factors when considering whether the defendant took reasonable care."

Chris Salmon, Director

Chris Salmon, Director