The government’s Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism (SARAH) Bill passed its third reading in the House of Lords yesterday afternoon, but was lampooned by Lord Pannick as a “monument” to the achievements of the current Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling.
Quoting from Shelley’s Ozymandias, the cross-bencher continued: “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.”
Lord Pannick said that “men and women across the country” had been preparing for acts of heroism – waiting only for Parliament to approve the bill – and in these circumstances it would be “irresponsible” of him to delay it any further.
He said the bill “remained the most ridiculous piece of legislation approved by Parliament in a very long time” and would “barely muster a pass mark in GCSE legal studies – if there was one”.
However, withdrawing an amendment to the bill, he praised the way justice minister Lord Faulks had “dived into the lake” to “rescue this pitiful creature”.
At it nears the end of its parliamentary journey, peers approved one amendment to the bill, tabled by Lord Faulks, which replaced the word “generally” in Clause 3 with “predominantly”.
This means that a person, “in carrying out the activity in the course of which the alleged negligence or breach of statutory duty occurred”, must have demonstrated a “predominantly responsible” approach towards protecting the safety of others.
Lord Pannick’s amendment would have replaced the word “activity” with “act or omission”, even though, as Lord Faulks pointed out, the beginning of the clause would no longer have made sense.
The justice minister himself described the bill as “small but important”, and said that it only required courts to “have regard” to certain matters, not to disregard all the other matters relating to a negligence action.
He said he hoped it would encourage volunteering and remove the “shadow” of the fear of litigation.
Lord Faulks said the government considered that the SARAH bill to be a “modest” change, but one that most people would consider to be sensible.
Lord Hunt of Wirral, a Conservative peer and supporter of the bill, said he had just returned from Antarctica, where there was “unbridled enthusiasm” for the bill and a feeling that there had been too much emphasis on health and safety.
However, shadow justice spokesperson Lord Beecham described the SARAH bill as “vanity legislation” which would apply to an “enormously wide range” of claims where there may be no element of public safety at all.