The Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill has survived an attempt to quash it during a lively debate in the House of Lords.
Retired judge Lord Lloyd of Berwick had tabled an amendment to prevent a second reading of the bill when peers came to discuss the legislation yesterday.
Lloyd argued that the limited changes in the bill – dubbed the heroism bill – were already covered in the 2006 Compensation Act and that it was a waste of parliamentary time to continue.
The bill is intended to compel judges to consider the context of an action at the heart of litigation – looking at whether the defendant in a claim had acted responsibly, to the benefit of society or was trying to save someone’s life.
Justice minister Lord Faulks (pictured) told the Lords that it was as much about sending a message to prevent litigation being started as to change the outcome of cases.
Lloyd eventually dropped his amendment after Labour peers – who argued against the bill – told him they would abstain in the event of any vote.
Lloyd had told the debate that justice secretary Chris Grayling relied on a seven-year-old survey in which 47% of 300 respondents said that they would have volunteered but for the fear of being sued, to justify the legislation.
‘This is yet another case—and a very bad example—of the government telling the judges what to do and how to exercise their discretion,’ he said. ‘That is sufficient reason for regarding the bill as wrong in principle and rejecting it.’
Cross-bench peer Lord Pannick (David Pannick QC) dismissed the bill as a ‘statement of the legally obvious’.
‘Its contents are not objectionable; they are simply pointless,’ he said.
‘When I see that the lord chancellor is bringing forward a legislative proposal, I worry about which valuable aspect of our legal system he is going to damage: judicial review, human rights and legal aid have all come under the cosh. It is, then, a pleasant surprise that the lord chancellor should be using valuable legislative time on a bill which is so anodyne.’
But the bill, which is one of the shortest in parliamentary history running to 20 lines in total, won support from a number of Conservative peers concerned to stop the influence of the compensation culture on volunteering, life-saving and small businesses.
Baroness Hodgson of Abinger said the effect of the bill will be to encourage citizens to step forward to participate and to become more active members of their community. ‘It will contribute to inspiring them to help others and to pay something back to society, while at the same time offering them reassurance and a degree of protection when things do not go entirely to plan or, as is inevitably the case, accidents happen.’
Labour’s Lord Kennedy of Southwark described the bill as a ‘depressing waste of parliamentary time’ but said his party did not want to deny it a second reading. It duly passed and will now be sent to committee stage.