Public bodies and other organisations could find it easier to offer apologies under law reform proposals floated by the government today. The Ministry of Justice is seeking views on updating the Compensation Act, which among other measures allowed public institutions and private companies to apologise without admitting liability in civil proceedings.

Almost 20 years on, the MoJ said, there is little evidence this has encouraged businesses to use apologies more as form of reparation for blunders or misconduct. The proposed reform would remove barriers - perceived or real - to apologising, while broadening the scope of the law would allow people to express regret and offer more earnest apologies, the MoJ said. 

The consultation proposals do not force those defending a claim to offer an apology. Parties would have the right to pursue further legal action whether or not an apology has been offered.

'The place of apologies in the justice system is becoming increasingly important, and this consultation will explore ways of strengthening this role, not least to enable victims to find closure and move on with their lives,’ Lord Bellamy, justice minister, said.

The consultation follows a recommendation from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse that apologies could and should be offered by employers for the actions of current or former employees – known as vicarious liability. This would encourage the likes of schools, care facilities or hospitals to offer apologies for abuse carried out by an individual at these institutions.

A private member’s bill to reform the law ran out of time during the 2019-21 parliamentary session. Its author, Conservative MP John Howell, said: 'I am delighted that this has come forward. It should be the mark of both a mature democratic society, and, of its dispute resolution system, that an apology, whether made publicly or privately, can and should be allowed to be meaningful, and, helpful rather than simply a necessary yet tokenistic gesture.'

The eight-week consultation on reforming the law of apologies in civil proceedings closes on 3 June.


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