Master of the rolls Lord Dyson has urged the government, courts and legal profession to educate the public to address some of the media-created myths of the compensation culture.
Giving the Holdsworth Club lecture earlier this month, Dyson (pictured) said there had been no developments in substantive domestic law that could be said to encourage a compensation culture.
And he dismissed the idea that the UK is developing a similarly ‘rampant litigation culture’ to the US, saying the media are doing little to dispel this notion and instead created a false perception of a claims culture.
Dyson did accept that conditional fees have encouraged the rise of claims companies and lawyers to seek out clients who have suffered any injury. He also noted that defendants have tended to settle claims because they perceive it is cheaper to do so than fight a battle in court.
But he said that the impending Jackson reforms and increased use of alternative dispute resolution will remove most incentives to pursue unmeritorious claims - though they may not change the perception that a compensation culture exists.
‘I doubt very much whether we are likely to see – in the medium term at least – any reduction in news stories expressing concern about our compensation culture. It is something of a mystery to me why the media find the compensation culture such a fascinating subject,’ said Dyson.
‘All of this may also require a substantive educative effort on the part of government, the courts and the legal profession to counteract the media-created perception that we are in the grips of a compensation culture.
‘It may also require greater public legal education. Given the possible benefits to society of reducing the perceived need for businesses, local and central government and so on to engage in unnecessarily defensive practices, it is to be hoped that this educative effort will pay for itself.’
Dyson said one of his own previous judgments had been held up by sections of the media as proof of a compensation culture, after he found in favour of a widow bringing a negligence claim following her husband’s death in a mountaineering accident.
‘I was acutely aware of the fact that mountaineering is an inherently dangerous activity and that accidents will happen without negligence,’ said Dyson.
‘I went out of my way to explain this in my judgment and to say that I had concluded on the evidence and on the facts of this case that there had been negligence. Despite my best efforts to explain this decision, my judgment provoked some criticism in the media.
‘I was said to be an out of touch judge more at home in the leather armchair of my club (I have never been a member of a club); lacking in understanding of the realities of outdoor pursuits; and dangerously contributing to the disappearance of excitement in life.
‘I mention this anecdote because, although I found for the widow in that case, I do not believe that it can be said that my decision made a contribution to compensation culture.’