The Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill is the “most embarrassing and pathetic” piece of legislation ever put forward by the Ministry of Justice, the shadow justice secretary has claimed.
Sadiq Khan was joined in his criticism of the so-called SARAH Bill by the former Conservative Solicitor-General Edward Garnier MP, who said it read more like an early day motion than a “proper statute”, and that he could not support it.
Opening the Bill’s second reading in the House of Commons yesterday, justice secretary Chris Grayling said the proposed legislation is “about deterring spurious claims and sending a message to the courts that we want them to focus on ensuring that they are on the side of the person who has done the right thing”.
He continued: “Of course, where the wrong thing has been done, the force of the law is there to provide an appropriate remedy. However, all too often cases are brought that I think frankly should not be brought.”
Mr Khan accused Mr Grayling of providing “no hard facts, no proof and no evidence” of the need for the five-clause Bill, citing a briefing from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations that it does not expect the Bill to significantly alter the current law, with similar provisions already made in the Compensation Act 2006.
“The government are seeking to legislate to deal with how we perceive risk, real or otherwise,” Mr Khan said. “If he was serious, the justice secretary would tackle the misconceptions about the risk of being sued, but that is a trickier task that he has chosen to duck.”
Mr Garnier said the Bill would not achieve its aims. “The Bill is more like an early-day motion than a proper statute. I say that because, as the Secretary of State admitted, it is predominantly there to send out a message…
“We should legislate not to send out signals or messages, but to make good black-letter law, so that the courts know what the law is and can apply it, and so that the legal professions know what it is and can advise the public on it.
“I have a horrible suspicion that if the Bill becomes an Act as it is currently drafted, it will be the subject of derision and confusion, or that even if that does not happen, it will fall into disuse.”
A handful of Conservative MPs spoke to back the Bill, along with DUP MP Jim Shannon, who said he hoped it would be replicated in Northern Ireland to encourage more volunteers.
Closing the debate, justice minister Shailesh Vara said: “The Bill is not designed to reduce standards of health and safety in the workplace or to leave workers without a remedy where they have been injured by the negligent actions of an irresponsible employer. It will, however, provide valuable reassurance to employers who have taken a responsible approach to safety, but end up in court when, for example, an employee suffers an injury that simply could not have been foreseen by any reasonable person.
“The Bill will send the powerful message that the courts will always consider the employer’s general approach to safety in the course of the activity in question before reaching a decision on liability.”