The government’s heroism bill has survived another attempt in the House of Lords to have key clauses removed.
But justice minister Lords Faulks agreed to an amendment to the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism bill during a debate in the second chamber yesterday.
Peers had sought to remove clauses in the bill that urge judges to consider whether defendants were acting for the benefit of society or acting heroically when deciding on liability.
Those tabled amendments were both soundly beaten after the Labour frontbench opted not to support them.
Labour did support an amendment to remove clause three, which urges judges to consider whether defendants have been ‘generally responsible’ in their approach. This amendment was defeated by 238 votes to 190.
Lord Beecham, the shadow justice spokesman, said the party could not support all proposed amendments on the grounds that doing so would undermine its opposition to other legislation, such as that seeking to reform judicial review. But he said Labour should oppose the ‘generally responsible’ clause because it was too vague and potentially dangerous.
He said: ‘Why should someone suffering damage through an act of negligence or breach of statutory duty be denied compensation on the grounds that the act or omission was in effect a first offence, or at any rate a rare offence? What, for that matter, constitutes a "responsible" approach?’
Cross-bencher Lord Pannick (David Pannick QC) criticised the government for using legislation to send out a statement, while he also suggested the bill does not specify that it will apply only to personal injury cases.
Rather than legislate, he said, the lord chancellor 'should buy a half-page advertisement in the Sun or the Daily Mail or, if he wants to reach younger citizens, open a Facebook page or set up a Twitter account, and simply tell people the obvious truth, that the law is already on their side'.
That would be a cheaper and more effective way to send a message than taking 'this sad bill' through parliament.
Faulks explained that the government had tabled an amendment to take out the last 11 words of clause three, which previously read: ‘The court must have regard to whether the alleged negligence or breach of statutory duty occurred when the person was acting heroically by intervening in an emergency to assist an individual in danger.’
The minister said: ‘This will put beyond doubt that the clause applies to anybody who intervenes in an emergency to help somebody in danger, regardless of whether they acted entirely spontaneously or weighed up the risks before intervening.’
Faulks said there may still be further changes to the wording of the bill, but argued that the legislation in its current form would reassure people and give greater guidance to courts to consider the context in which an injury was suffered.
‘Judges sometimes do not sufficiently bear these matters in mind,’ he said. ‘The court must now "have regard" - that is all we ask - to whether there is heroism as described.’
The bill now moves onto its third reading stage, followed by consideration of amendments.