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Friday, 13 February 2015

SARAH - work of genius or meaningless drivel???

In the late 1970s the Rock Band Thin Lizzy had a hit with a song called Sarah. It included the memorable lyrics -

‘When you begin to smile you change my style
My Sarah
When I look in your eyes I see my prize
My Sarah’

As an aging hippy I still love the track. But to many modern listeners this is sentimental, meaningless drivel. Which brings me to another SARAH, which has been in the news this week. But there is a difference. This one is definitely meaningless drivel.

SARAH is the short name for the grandly titled Social Action, Responsibility And Heroism bill which has received the royal Assent this week. The new Act says that if someone is injured due to negligence, the court has to consider the following factors –
  • If the person being sued was doing something for ‘the benefit of society’ – to take account of the fact people were doing a good deed like volunteering, running an event or trip, or helping out by clearing snow.
  • If they had been acting in a ‘predominantly responsible way’ – to make sure the court will give consideration to the fact that people may have taken care when organising an activity but, in spite of their best efforts, an accident has happened.
  • If they were ‘intervening in an emergency’ – if they stepped in to help someone in danger but something went wrong.

SARAH has been widely derided by lawyers as one of the most pointless enactments of all time. This is because it is meaningless in practice. So let’s say that I drive into the back of somebody at traffic lights or hit a pedestrian on a zebra crossing, do my insurers avoid liability if I was acting in a way that was ‘predominantly responsible’? So if was only a little bit reckless the poor victim gets nothing. Or if I overload the shelves in our local food bank and they collpase onto soembody, do my insurers pay nothing because I was doing a good deed? Of course not.

The logical outcome could be that motor insurers will insist that all drivers do voluntary work – think of the millions that they could save. During the debate in the upper house, Lord Pannick QC brilliantly observed that it was - ‘so anodyne and pointless that the only appropriate response is a shrug of the shoulders or the raising of an eyebrow’
It is in fact a dangerous use of law making powers in order to make a political statement. Minister of Justice, Chris Grayling said that the provision was needed as a ‘balance to counter the health and safety culture’. 

This government is no fan of Health and Safety. Back in 2012 the Prime Minister declared himself determined to - 'kill off the health and safety culture for good'. This frightening comment disregards the many thousands of lives that have been saved since the Health and Safety Executive was launched in the 1970s. This negative attitude to safety is fed by myths promoted in the tabloid press and exploited by hostile politicians.

In response to the 2012 outburst from Mr. Cameron the HSE published – 

This highlighted a number of fictitious Health and Safety issues including – 

The truth is that Health and Safety saves lives. It may be unpopular with businesses that have to take care of their workers but what is more important? 

As for SARAH – she is now on the statute book and her name may never be heard again!

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