The new Lord Chancellor said this week that he “will not be afraid to reconsider” aspects of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 “if it proves that what we have done has created a major problem”.
Taking questions in the House of Commons earlier this week, Chris Grayling was responding to a question from Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins outlining the concerns of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers about the “drastic changes to the rules on legal costs that are due in April next year”.
Mr Hopkins said: “They believe that those changes could have serious implications for the victims of childhood abuse.”
Meanwhile, justice minister Helen Grant said the government is “about to consult” on its proposals to tackle fraudulent whiplash claims, saying “the increase in whiplash claims at a time when there are fewer reported road traffic accidents is unacceptable”. The proposals include raising the small claims threshold for personal injury claims from £1,000 to £5,000, and creating independent medical panels.
She accepted a request from Grahame Morris to meet with a delegation of Labour MPs to discuss the impact of a higher small claims limit on the victims of workplace accidents and industrial diseases.
Meanwhile, at the second reading of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill in the House of Lords yesterday, Labour questioned whether the government knew what it was doing with a clause that will abolish a worker’s right to compensation for breach of health and safety regulations; instead they will have to prove that negligence has occurred. The move has come under fire from lawyers.
Opposition spokesman Lord Stevenson of Balmacara said the proposal – which was added to the bill during the House of Commons report stage – needs to be scrutinised very carefully.
He said: “Is it really the government’s intention that a worker injured due to an employer’s breach of a statutory duty within the health and safety at work regulations – such as failing to guard a machine – will be required to prove that the employer knew, or ought to have known, of such a failure in order to gain redress for the injury sustained?
“The requirement to prove foreseeability is a very high bar of proof for an individual injured or killed through no fault of their own. Do the government really think that by proposing this change they are sending the right message to employers about the importance of health and safety? There has been no public consultation on this proposal and what is being proposed goes further than the recommendations made in this area by Professor Lofstedt, in his recent report.”
Several other peers expressed concern at the provision and the lack of consultation and justification for it, including Labour peers Lords Monks, Davis, Whitty, McKenzie of Luton, Young of Norwood Green, and MacKenzie of Culkein, together with crossbench peer Lord Low of Dalston. Lord Whitty said it was the “ugliest” provision in the entire bill.