the personal injury and clinical negligence blog

A collaboration between Rebmark Legal Solutions and 1 Chancery Lane

Damages for abuse

The Claimant in KCR v The Scout Association [2016] EWHC 597 (QB) suffered sustained abuse by a Cub Scout Group Leader when a young boy in the 1980s. In 2003 the abuser was convicted of a large number of sexual offences against boys including the Claimant. As might be expected, given recent trends in this area of law, the Defendant admitted that it was vicariously liable for the abuser’s actions. The court was therefore concerned solely with the assessment of damages. The case had one feature that is depressingly common and one that is rather unusual. It is also, in more general terms, a helpful illustration of how courts may approach the difficult issues that cases of this kind throw up. It is often the case that victims of abuse are peculiarly vulnerable individuals. Sometimes this gives the abuser the opportunity to perpetrate abuse (for example, if a child is in care) or prevents the abuse being detected (because there is no-one the child can trust enough to confide in). The correlation (or at least frequent concurrence) of pre-existing vulnerability and abuse makes determining issues of causation in such cases difficult, because children who have experienced traumatic childhoods may already be destined to lead difficult adult lives in any event. In this case, the Claimant’s parents separated when he was four or five years old after his father had been violent towards his mother. He began using drugs in his teens and subsequently obtained his income principally from drug-dealing, with the exception of a few short-lived periods when he was in employment. He had a number of convictions for offences relating to drugs, firearms, dishonesty and violence.   The Claimant contended that he was entitled to a Blamire award for loss of earnings, past and future, on the basis that his inability to find sustained employment was a result of the abuse he had suffered. The Defendant accepted that the Claimant was entitled to general damages, but disputed the loss of earnings claim, contending that it was his “lifestyle choices” rather than the abuse that had prevented him being in sustained employment. The Defendant further contended that, even if factual causation was established, much of the Claimant’s loss should be deemed irrecoverable as a matter of public policy because it arose from the consequences of the Claimant’s own criminal conduct. After a careful analysis of the facts, the court preferred the Defendant’s case on causation. As a result, it did not have to go on to consider the application of the ex turpi maxim. It assessed general damages at £48,000 and dismissed the claim for aggravated damages with reference to Richard v Howie [2004] EWCA Civ 1127. The unusual feature of the case was that at the time he was subject to the abuse, and for some time afterwards, the Claimant and another boy effectively blackmailed the abuser when they realised they could demand from him rewards of money and material possessions in return for keeping quiet about the abuse. The Defendant contended that it should be given credit for the sums thereby extorted from the abuser by the Claimant. It was prayed in aid in support of this submission that the Claimant had himself described the payments in his witness statement to the police as “compensation”. Such a submission is so obviously unattractive that it is perhaps surprising that it was ever advanced and it is not at all surprising that it was rejected by the judge, who held (a) that the payments were gifts and hence could not properly be considered as compensation and (b) that as a matter of public policy the Claimant’s damages should not be reduced as the Defendant suggested. The judge reached the right conclusion, but for the wrong reasons. The payments were not gifts; they were, on the facts, part of a bargain between the Claimant and the abuser whereby the abuser sought to buy the Claimant’s silence so that he could continue to perpetrate abuse (of the Claimant and of others). The real reason the Defendant was not entitled to credit for the payments was that they did not relate to the subject matter of the claim, which was damages for the effect of the abuse on the Claimant in terms of pain, suffering, anguish etc. The abuser made the payments so that he could continue his abuse, not to compensate the Claimant for the effects of that abuse. Because the Defendant’s contention could have been dismissed for that reason, the resort to public policy was unnecessary and possibly unhelpful for future cases where the same or similar issues arise. There may be cases where it would be appropriate for a defendant to be given credit for payments made by an abuser. Suppose an abuser later repented of their abuse and wrote to their former victim expressing contrition for the harm they had caused and enclosing a cheque which the victim banked. Such cases are likely to be exceptional, but as and when they do occur then on what principle of public policy should a defendant who was vicariously liable for the abuser’s actions not be entitled to have that payment taken into account? There will be cases at the margins which will be difficult to decide, but the principle that should be applied remains whether the payments were genuinely compensatory or whether, as here, they were really the price that the abuser was willing to pay to avoid detection. A victim extorting money from an abuser may be unusual but it is not unprecedented. A case that sticks in the mind from criminal law lectures is R v Camplin (“the chapati pan case”) where the defendant murdered his abuser, who he had been blackmailing in return for not revealing the abuse of another boy called “Jumbo”: see the report from the Court of Appeal [1978] QB 254 at 257C. Many of the abuse cases currently working their way through the courts involve wealthy abusers who may have made payments to their victims. How to treat those payments is therefore an issue which the courts are likely to have to address again before too long.

Top personal injury decisions of the Court of Appeal in 2015

The Court of Appeal has made a number of important decisions in 2015 in the field of personal injury. As the year draws to a close, Ella Davis and I review some of the most important of them for the PI practitioner. They cover psychiatric damage, causation, quantum, the Athens Convention, jurisdiction, duties of care, vicarious liability and non-delegable duties... Psychiatric Damage Liverpool Women’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust v Ronayne [2015] EWCA Civ 588 was a case of a claimant claiming damages for psychiatric injury consequent on seeing the condition of a loved one brought about by the negligence of a defendant. Of the four requirements for recovery, the decision focused on whether C’s illness had been “induced by a sudden shocking event.” Three issues were at the heart of the case: (1) whether C had suffered a recognised psychiatric illness, (2) Whether there had been “an event” and (3) how “shocking” the event must be. Edward Bishop QC provided a masterly analysis of this and other decisions in the 1 Chancery Lane October 2015 PI Briefing. In brief, C’s wife became extremely unwell due to the negligence of D. C claimed he had suffered psychiatric injury as a result of the shock of seeing his wife’s sudden deterioration and appearance in hospital. The CA confirmed that courts should pay close attention to diagnostic criteria, that whether an event is ‘horrifying’ must be judged by objective standards and by reference to persons of ordinary susceptibility and that for an event in a hospital to be ‘shocking’ required something “wholly exceptional in some way so as to shock or horrify”. It also considered what was meant by an ‘event’ and ‘sudden’ finding that C had not been exposed to one event (“a seamless tale with an obvious beginning and an equally obvious end”) but a series of events with no “inexorable progression”. What had happened was not sudden, it had not caused an “assault upon the senses” but at each stage C had been conditioned for what he was about to perceive. Causation Reaney v University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust  [2015] EWCA Civ 119 was considered on this blog in a posting by Ella Davis “Quantity not Quality”. She rightly observes that the decision brings clarity to the law rather than any new departure. The CA considered causation in a case where a patient was a paraplegic requiring a care regime (due to non-negligent causes) but due to the negligence of D causing pressure sores, her care needs were increased. The question was whether D caused all her care needs or whether D was only liable for those needs less the needs which she would have had but for the negligence. The key issue was whether the pre-existing care needs were qualitatively different from those caused by the negligence or whether they were merely quantitatively different. The CA found they were only quantitatively different and therefore D was only liable for C’s increased care requirements. In future parties will doubtless pay careful attention to whether losses are qualitatively or quantitatively different as a result of negligence adding to a pre-existing condition. Causation and the Burden of Proof Graves v Brouwer [2015] EWCA Civ 595 concerned a house fire of unknown cause. Mr Brouwer set fire to a small bundle of papers in the passageway next to his house. Very shortly afterward the roof of his neighbour’s house caught fire. The experts agreed that the chances of an ember from the papers travelling to the eaves of the building and starting a fire were very low but, absent arson, were unable to come up with a more probable cause. The judge rejected arson as fanciful and found that, while the flying ember theory was scientifically improbable, the Claimant succeeded on causation. The Court of Appeal overturned her decision saying she had failed to ask herself the ultimate question whether the flying ember theory was more likely or not to be true. The fact that no other possible causes were identified, in large part because there was no investigation at the time, did not make it more probable than not the fire was caused by a flying ember. As Roderick Abbot observed in his blog post “Sherlock Holmes in the Court of Appeal”, the exercise is not one of identifying the least unlikely cause. The Claimant had failed to discharge the burden of proof and that was all the judge was required to find. Quantum Billett v Ministry of Defence [2015] EWCA Civ 773 concerns how courts should assess damages for loss of future earning capacity in circumstances where the claimant suffers from a minor disability, is in steady employment and is earning at his full pre-accident rate. Should the court follow the traditional Smith v Manchester approach or should the court use the Ogden Tables, suitably adjusted? C suffered from a minor Non Freezing Cold Injury (“NFCI”) which had a substantial impact on his day to day life in cold weather. The condition had less impact on his work as a lorry driver than it had on his leisure activities. The judge found that his loss of future earning capacity should be assessed by using Ogden Tables A and B, suitably adjusted, not by applying Smith v Manchester.  The CA upheld his decision that C had a minor disability clarifying that where a court considers whether an injury substantially limits a claimant’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, the enquiry should be directed at what the claimant cannot do rather than what he can do. The CA overturned the judge’s decision to use the Ogden Tables: unadjusted they produced an unrealistic future loss; adjustment however was a matter of broad judgment which was no more scientific than the approach in Smith v Manchester. The judgment still leaves open the question when a disability becomes serious enough to engage the approach in Ogden Tables A and B and when and how those might be adjusted.  However as Andrew Spencer said in his blog on this case (Loss of future earnings and disability) the case is strong authority for retaining the Smith v Manchester approach in cases of minor disabilities with little effect on the claimant’s chosen career. Athens Convention In South West Strategic Health Authority v Bay Island Voyages [2015] EWCA Civ 708 the CA considered two issues relating to the Athens Convention (which governs personal injury to passengers at sea). The first was whether it extended to claims against carriers for contribution to liability of others and the second was the effect of the time bar prescribed by the convention. Dr Feest was injured in a boating accident in the Bristol Channel. The carrier was Bay Island Voyages (“BIV”). Dr Feest’s first firm of solicitors failed to issue against BIV within the 2 year time limit under the Convention and so she sued her employer SWSHA on the basis the accident occurred in the course of her employment. SWSHA joined BIV who successfully applied to have the Part 20 proceedings struck out. The Court of Appeal found that the provisions of the convention were not directly applicable to SWSHA’s claim against BIV. It also found that the time bar in Article 16 did not extinguish the cause of action but only barred the remedy: this was critical for SWSHA’s contribution claim as, if the limitation provisions had extinguished the right to bring the claim, under the provisions of the Civil Liability (Contribution) Act 1978 SWSHA could only have brought a claim within 2 years of the accident. Ian Miller, who represented SWSHA with John Ross QC, blogged on the case: “Contribution, limitation and the Athens Convention.” Jurisdiction Brownlie v Four Seasons Holding Incorporated [2015] EWCA Civ 665 involved the application of the Canada Trust gloss and a novel question about where damage in a tort claim was sustained. C bought an off package excursion in Egypt in which her husband was killed and she was injured. She booked the excursion by making a telephone call in England to the concierge at the hotel in Egypt. After the accident she brought proceedings in the High Court in contract and tort. She brought three tort claims (1) in respect of her own injuries; (2) as a dependant of her husband and (3) for the loss suffered by her husband’s estate. On appeal the court of appeal, applying the Canada Trust gloss – which is well set out and explained in the judgment - found that there was a good arguable case as to the identity of the defendant and as to whether the contract was made in England. This was not novel point of law: it was merely a finding that it was likely that C had called the concierge with proposals and he had accepted them. Given a contract for an excursion is made at the place where the words of acceptance are received, the contract was made in England. The novel point of law considered by the CA was the question of whether damage was sustained within the jurisdiction for the purposes of C’s claim in tort. This is the requirement of paragraph 3.1(9)(a) of the Practice Direction 6B (the tort gateway) for permission to serve out of the jurisdiction. The CA held the jurisdictional gateway should be interpreted consistently with Rome II and therefore the country in which the damage occurs should be the country where the injury was sustained regardless of the country in which the indirect consequences could occur. Thus the Claimant’s personal claim and the claim on behalf of the estate should be brought in Egypt. However, the dependency claim under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 was not properly described as a consequential loss it was an independent loss and so the Claimant had shown a good arguable case that English law should apply to this claim. Matthew Chapman who appeared in this case with John Ross QC has blogged on it here. Duties of care and mental impairment In Dunnage v Randall [2015] EWCA Civ 673  the Defendant (“V”) was a paranoid schizophrenic who poured petrol over himself and ignited it, injuring his nephew the Claimant. V’s mental state was agreed to be grossly impaired. On a spectrum between completely healthy volition and absent volition he was at least 95 per cent impaired and probably 100 per cent absent volition. A number of helpful points arise from the three lengthy judgments given. First, the court rejected any need to differentiate between mental and physical impairment. Second, a person with a mental impairment owes a duty of care. Third, the standard of care should not be adjusted to take account of the personal characteristics of the Defendant, it is purely objective. Fourth, only Defendants whose attack or medical incapacity has the effect of entirely eliminating any fault or responsibility for the injury can be said not to have broken their duty of care. The Claimant’s appeal was therefore allowed. Interestingly the court noted that insanity is a defence in crime because criminal law is punitive whereas the function of the law of tort is to compensate victims. Vicarious Liability In Graham v Commercial Bodyworks Ltd [2015] EWCA Civ 47  the court had to determine whether an employer was vicariously liable for the acts of an employee who sprayed a co-worker’s overalls with thinning agent and then set them alight causing him considerable injury. Having looked at the Canadian authorities in sex abuse cases, the court considered that the starting point was to examine whether there was a close connection between the creation or enhancement of a risk by the employer and the wrong that accrues therefrom. In this case the employers created a risk in requiring their employees to work with paint thinners but there was not a sufficiently close connection between that risk and the wrongful act. The wrongful act did not further the employer’s aims and it was not related to friction, confrontation or intimacy inherent in the employer's enterprise. Where the employment does not require the exercise of force and there is no inherent friction, intentional conduct in the workplace, whether horseplay or more serious acts, will not normally give rise to vicarious liability. Vicarious Liability and Non-Delegable Duties The Court of Appeal in NA v Nottingham County Council [2015] EWCA Civ 1139 held that a local authority was not vicariously liable for the abuse of a child by the foster carers with which it placed her, nor did it owe her a non-delegable duty to protect her from harm. The relationship between the local authority and the foster carers was not sufficiently akin to one of employment to give rise to vicarious liability. On the issue of a non-delegable duty all three members of the court of appeal gave different reasons summarised in our November 2015 PI Briefing. In brief, Tomlinson LJ held that the local authority had discharged rather than delegated its duty in placing the child with foster carers. Burnett LJ held that what the Claimant sought to do was to expand the common law imposing a strict duty on local authorities on the basis that foster parents were not always able to satisfy a claim. Black LJ held that it would not be fair just and reasonable to apply such a duty; in fact it would be unreasonably burdensome and potentially harmful if it led to over cautious practice.  

“ .. Friends, Romans, personal injury lawyers ...!”

Or so Mark Antony might have said if Shakespeare had been around to reflect on the amendments to the CPR which come into effect on 6 April 2015. All the talk is of the changes to Part 36. But what of the new Part 87 which is being introduced as part of the continuing drive to replace Latin terms with simpler English language.   I confess to a fondness for Roman law having been made to study it as a student. I dutifully worked through “ius civile” (law of citizens), ius gentium (law of peoples) and other concepts. I learned about “ferae naturae-propter privilegium” (qualified property in animals) on which some modern legislation such as the Bees Act 1980 is based. Sadly I have not yet had the opportunity in practice to deploy this knowledge or what Justinian had to say about the sale of chariots and other “res corporalis”.   That is not to say that Roman law is irrelevant to personal injury lawyers.   Fairchild v Glenhaven Funeral Services Ltd and others [2002] UKHL 22; [2002] 3 All ER 305; [2003] 1 AC 32 is the seminal authority on indivisible injury in negligence cases. The claimants were negligently exposed to asbestos by multiple employers but were permitted to “leap the evidentiary gap” such that their employers were held jointly and severally liable.   Less well known are the references in Lord Rodger’s judgment to Roman jurisprudence and his observation [at §157] that “in a certain form, problems with unidentifiable wrongdoers had begun to exercise the minds of Roman jurists not later than the first century BC”. Lord Roger comments [at §158] on “D 9 2 51 Julian 86 digesta” written in the second century AD in which Julian discusses the “Lex Aquilia” and [at §159] on the later writer Ulpian in “D 9 2 11 2 Ulpian 18 ad edictum” both of whom considered the situation where a slave was killed by a number of people in such a way that it was impossible to say whose blow had caused his death.   On his way to finding causation proved in Fairchild, Lord Rodger notes [at §160] that “classical Roman jurists of the greatest distinction saw the need for the law to deal specially with the situation where it was impossible to ascertain the identity of the actual killer among a number of wrongdoers”.   The new Part 87 continue the process set in motion by Lord Woolf in June 1996 when he published his review of the civil justice system and writs gave way to claim forms, plaintiffs became claimants (although they remain plaintiffs in other jurisdictions such as Hong Kong) and hearings in camera would hence forth be hearings in private. Now, from 6 April 2015, habeas corpus “ad subjiciendum” becomes habeas corpus “for release”.   In “Beyond the Fringe” the great Peter Cook reflected that “I could have been a Judge but I never had the Latin for the judgin’”.   There is no longer any need for Peter or for others to worry.

Holding out for the Heroism Bill

The Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill (dubbed by some the “Sarah Bill”) is being returned to the House of Commons, with amendments, following its final reading in the House of Lords on 6 January 2015. The much-maligned and exceptionally brief Bill seeks to introduce a requirement that courts deciding negligence and/or breach of statutory duty cases and in determining the standard of care give consideration to whether the activity or omission complained of was for the benefit of society, whether the person carrying out the activity demonstrated a “predominantly responsible approach” in protecting a person’s safety or other interests and whether (in emergency situations) the person intervened “heroically”.   Clause 4 in particular makes clear that the Bill is aimed predominantly at personal injury cases, although it will apply to non-personal injury cases. Critics of the Bill have suggested that it is largely being promoted by the Government to further protect employers and to appease the insurance industry. Indeed, the Bill has been criticised on several grounds, mostly as being a mere publicity stunt by the Government but also for its vagueness. The Sarah Bill is designed to afford greater protection to volunteers and employers who might otherwise be deterred from performing worthwhile deeds or organising events due to the risk of finding themselves on the end of a negligence claim. The Bill survived an attempt in December 2014 at the Second Reading to remove most of its (four) clauses. At the Third Reading, clause 3 (the social responsibility clause) was amended such that (in assessing the standard of care) the individual’s approach towards protecting the safety and interest of others must have been “predominantly”, rather “generally”, responsible. Clause 4 was also amended, removing the words “and without regard to the person’s own safety or other interests” to make clear that the clause applies equally to those cases where the person (sorry, hero(ine)) assess  the risks to their own safety or other interests before intervening (as well as those where they did not assess the risks). The amended Bill will be considered by the House of Commons on 2 February 2015. If the Bill is passed, there are potentially difficult questions for the judges on the ground to answer. The Bill is somewhat unhelpfully brief and uses terms which are somewhat “foreign”. The first difficulty is going to be determining when a defendant’s action was “for the benefit of society or any of its members.” The clause has a potentially enormous scope. Employers, particularly in the public sector, are likely going to try to fit themselves under this clause. But even if they do, you may well ask, so what? It is only a factor for the judge to consider and is by no means a defence. There is no indication of what weight, if any, judges will place on this factor. Judges will also have to decide on what is meant under clause 3 by a “predominantly responsible approach” in protecting the safety or other interests of others. Again, the potential scope of the clause is vast. Will it apply, for instance, to all medical professionals? Will it apply to any attempt by an employer to introduce some health and safety measure? And what is the tipping point for an approach to be categorised as “predominantly responsible”? There is potential for a stream of cases on that issue alone, unless of course there is a judicial reluctance to engage with the clause and it goes the way of section 1 of the Compensation Act 2006. It is also questionable how many cases will fall under clause 4 (the heroism clause). But for those that do, what do we mean by acting “heroically”? This is an entirely foreign legal concept and is open to a sliding scale of judicial interpretation.  Are doctors acting “heroically” in emergency situations or will the clause only apply to the volunteer, have-a-go hero(ine) which the Government seems to have intended? The Bill, as is stands, is brief, vague and uses terms to which the legal world is not accustomed. Although cases might throw up interesting questions on how to interpret the Bill, one has to wonder whether it will all be for nought. Chris Grayling MP himself has said, "The bill will not change this overarching legal framework, but it will direct the courts to consider particular factors when considering whether the defendant took reasonable care." If judges do not engage with it or consideration of these particulars factors makes no material difference in practice, will defendants even bother to try to fit their cases under one of the clauses? Much like section 1 of the Compensation Act 2006, it will be judicial appetite that determines how effective the Bill’s clauses become. Given the criticism of the Bill in judicial circles, do not expect that appetite to be very strong.  

A defendant's nightmare?

  A Defendant’s Nightmare?   Sarah Davison would normally get to her desk by 6 a.m., work for twelve hours and often head out thereafter to meet and entertain clients. Sleep felt like it was secondary to achievement. She worked in a macho environment and her boss was a man who, in the words of Andrews J, “does not suffer fools gladly, or indeed at all”. But Mrs Davison was well-paid: at the time she left on maternity leave to have her first child she was earning over £200,000 a year. When, after giving birth to that child, she suffered a career-ending injury as a result of clinical negligence, the resulting claim was always going to be of the size that makes defendants and their insurers wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night.   Andrews J’s judgment on damages (Sarah Davison v Craig Leitch [2013] EWHC 3092 (QB)) makes interesting reading. A court called upon to assess loss of earnings in such a situation is engaged in a difficult exercise, perhaps best characterised, to borrow one of my favourite judicial dicta of Lindsay J, as “a glance at a crystal ball of, so to speak, only a low wattage” (see Douglas v Hello! Ltd (No.5) [2003] EWHC 786 (Ch)). There are often a number of variables and changing any one of them can have a significant effect on the ultimate award.   One approach is to consider a number of possible scenarios, determine the probability of each of them occurring, and then multiply that figure by what would have been earned in each scenario; that can sometimes be the only way to do justice, particularly where a person had a chance of a “big break” which, had it occurred, would have lead to very significant rewards. The kick-boxing claimant in Langford v Hebran [2001] PIQR Q13 is a good example of this approach being applied; it works best where there are a limited number of clearly defined possible scenarios; where they are more numerous, or the lines between them more blurred, the calculation can become unwieldy.   The more traditional approach, and the one adopted by the court in Davison, is simply to make a best guess as to how the claimant’s career would have progressed absent the tort. This will inevitably involve scrutiny of the claimant’s pre-accident career and abilities. Andrews J was clearly impressed by the evidence on this point of Mrs Davison’s ex-boss, a man so busy he had to give evidence “via video link ... en route to catching a plane”. There may also be a need, particularly in a volatile or cyclical industry such as financial services, to assess what the future demand would have been for a person’s services.   Andrews J broadly accepted the Claimant’s evidence on these two points; where she differed was as to the likelihood of the Claimant continuing in her pre-accident role as an equities trader once her three children were born, holding “it highly unlikely that when Mrs Davison returned to work after her maternity leave ... she would have had the appetite to return to the stresses of the trading floor and face the prospect of never seeing her three small children during the week ... However much she would like to believe otherwise, in my judgment it is far more likely that she would have moved to a less stressful position within the bank, involving shorter working hours.”   The judgment is also interesting for its award of £6,500 for loss of congenial employment. Given the description of Mrs Davison’s working life at the start of this post, one may well question whether it can really be described as “congenial”. Andrews J justified the award on the basis that Mrs Davison’s “future is uncertain and any work she does undertake in future is likely to be fairly solitary and considerably well paid”. This is curious reasoning. The fact that the Claimant was likely to be paid less was, of course, compensated by an award for future loss of earnings. It might be said that her earnings are relevant to what was in effect an award for loss of status, but here again surely one has to look at all the circumstances of her pre-accident employment. Andrews J found as a fact that the most likely future for the Claimant would be running her own small business, possibly as an interior designer. Of course, that would lack the stimulus and status of a job in the City, but it would also lack its stresses and uncertainties. Can it really be said, taking everything into account, that the Claimant’s overall quality of life would undoubtedly be the poorer? Less well-paid, certainly; but less congenial? - it is perhaps to be doubted. There is a danger that awards under this head will become routine in all cases where a claimant is unable to pursue their chosen career. Perhaps the Law Commission’s suggestion that this should not be a separate head of damage at all, but rather should be considered as part of the award for PSLA, deserves reconsideration.        

Smile... you're on candid camera!

In the Judicial Studies Board Annual Lecture yesterday Lord Neuberger, Master of the Rolls, considered the issue of open justice and, in doing so, revisited the contentious question of cameras in court.  In a compellingly argued lecture, he expressed the view that "if we wish to increase public confidence in the justice system, transparency and engagement, there is undoubtedly something to be said for televising some hearints, provided that there were proper safeguards to ensure that this increased access did not undermine the proper administration of justice." The full text can be found online:  http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Speeches/mr-speech-jsb-lecture-march-2011.pdf

Lord Woolf Warns of Human Rights Conflict

Whatever your views about the Human Rights Act 1998 ("HRA"), most lawyers would admit that it has led to many interesting developments in the law, although not as many as were feared as we approached the turn of the century and the Act coming into force.  The approach of the courts in this jurisdiction has, for the most part, been reasonably restrictive although it is clear that in the arena of public and administrative law in particular, the HRA has had a pivotal role in shaping the law. For many personal injury lawyers the HRA impacts little on day to day practice, save for ticking the box on various court documents to confirm that there is no human rights issue in a claim.  Equally, whether one acts primarily for claimants or defendants, the HRA has an influence that cannot be ignored.  For example, the case of R (on the application of Middleton) v HM Coroner for Western Somerset [2004] AC 182 has changed not only the conduct of inquests where Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights ("ECHR") is engaged.  As coroners have become more used to conducting wide ranging inquiries and giving narrative verdicts the scope of even traditional inquests has expanded.  Further, if one acts for or against public bodies, an almost inevitable occurrence at some time during the career of most personal injury lawyers, the scope of the duty of care and the obligations owed by agents of the state to individuals in certain areas have also been influenced by the courts' recognition of Convention rights.  It has been well publicised that the government is considering the future of the HRA both as a result of longstanding policy objectives and also following dissatisfaction in some quarters about the influence of the Convention on difficult issues such as prisoner voting rights and whether those on the sex offenders register should have a right to appeal to have their name removed after a certain period of time.  David Cameron has announced an intention to set up a Commission to consider whether a UK Bill of Rights should be introduced. On Monday Lord Woolf, Lord Chief Justice from 2002 to 2005, was interviewed on Radio 4's Today programme.  Although Lord Woolf made it clear that he did not take issue with the setting up of a Commission to consider the issue of human rights, he warned: "We have got a stark option: either we accept the European Convention, or we don't accept it and decide to leave the Council of Europe. It's very difficult to do what [Justice Secretary] Mr Clarke indicated he would like to do when he's chairman of the relevant body, because there are 47 signatories in Europe which are signatories to the European Convention as well as ourselves. To try and amend that is a virtually impossible task...  If you have a further convention - a British convention [the Bill of Rights] - there's going to be a complication in the position, because you're going to have two conventions to which the courts are going to have a regard." Whatever one might think about prisoner voting rights and the sex offenders register, it is easy to anticipate that emotive issues such as these will lead to strong and often polarised views.  Further, whether one is for or against the influence of the ECHR within the UK, one can see that difficult issues such as these do not make a good platform on which to base a discussion about the influence of the HRA on UK law over the last decade.  The incremental and often restrictive approach of the courts in allowing HRA arguments to expand the law much beyond our pre-existing common law receives little attention in the media.  In addition the cases where the HRA is relied on to expand the rights of "the good" rather than "the bad" also usually do not make good press.  An objective and carefully considered discussion about the influence of the HRA, good and bad, across all areas of law over the last decade should be welcomed by all.  Ten years is a reasonable period to enable proper reflection on quite what impact the HRA has had.  However, one cannot help but wonder whether politicians should be reminded not to base that discussion and consideration primarily on hard and topical issues such as prisoner voting rights and the sex offenders register.  After all, at law school most students are taught the old adage: hard cases make bad law.  It seems equally likely that over reliance on hard issues can give rise to bad politics too. 

A ski helmet? – Not on your nelly!

 The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson has recently expounded: “goggles, yet; a woolly hat, yet; but a helmet – not on your nelly”, in a recent article for the Telegraph. He was of course commenting on what he somewhat characteristically termed the “elf and safety madness that is sweeping our culture”, in relation to the growing trend for skiers to wear helmets. However he raises some interesting questions for the PI practitioner considering the extent of an injured party’s contributory negligence. Whilst motorcycle crash helmets are obligatory, cycle helmets, skiing helmets and indeed other forms or protective equipment are not.   Is it thus reasonable for courts to hold that an injured party negligently contributed to his or her injury by exercising a free choice not to wear a cycle/ski helmet, even if such apparel is ‘recommended’ or ‘best practice’? Should defendants in such cases simply have to take their victims as they find them?   The case of Smith v Finch [2009] EWCA 53 applied Lord Denning’s reasoning in Froom & Ors. v Butcher [1976] QB 286, the well known case dealing with contributory negligence and a failure to wear a seatbelt, which were not obligatory at the time, but were ‘recommended’. Griffith Williams J in Smith held a cyclist claimant who was run down by a motorcyclist was at fault for failing to wear a helmet. Cycling helmets may be one thing, but what about cycling gloves; squash goggles; motorcycle leathers; rugby scrummage caps; or car seats for short children over 12?   The questions courts and practitioners will routinely have to ask themselves include: ·         When does it become reasonable to expect a party to exercise a choice to wear purely optional safety equipment? ·         Where is the point where a free decision not to wear such equipment becomes capable as sounding in contributory negligence? ·         Is it, as Boris’ article suggests, when it is not a case of everyone else looking odd by wearing such equipment, but when it is you, for not wearing it?   Despite the judgment in Smith, these questions have yet to be fully answered.   Boris’ article is available at: www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/borisjohnson/7289457/Wear-ski-helmets-by-all-means-but-Im-sticking-to-a-woolly-hat.html

Emergency Services: Liability under the Human Rights Act

Following Lord Young’s report, personal injury funding is likely to be reduced and, as a consequence, claims under the HRA against emergency services may become more frequent, according to Edward Bishop who recently spoke on the topic at the Personal Injury Bar Association Winter Conference. One advantage of the HRA is that, in contrast to the common law, which adopts different approaches to different emergency services as regards the question of whether a duty is owed, the HRA treats the question more consistently. Section 6 of the HRA provides: It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right. A number of convention rights may be relevant to actions against emergency services, including: a)      Article 2: Right to Life; b)      Article 3: Prohibition of Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment; c)       Article 5: Right to Liberty and Security; and d)      Article 8: Right to Respect for Private and Family Life. The extent of the duties owed under the HRA was explained in Osman v UK ((2000) 29 EHRR 245). At paragraph 116 the Court held: bearing in mind the difficulties involved in policing modern societies, the unpredictability of human conduct and the operational choices which must be made in terms of priorities and resources […] it must be established […] that the authorities knew or ought to have known at the time of the existence of a real and immediate risk to the life of an identified individual […]  from the criminal acts of a third party and that they failed to take measures within the scope of their powers which, judged reasonably, might have been expected to avoid that risk. However, as Edward highlighted, although the HRA provides a more consistent approach, it may also pose a number of difficulties for claimants. These include the following: a)      The Osman test is more difficult to satisfy than “ordinary” negligence, as explained by Baroness Hale in Savage v South Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust ([2008] UKHL 74 at paragraph 97); b)      There is no liability under the HRA for clinical negligence (Powell v United Kingdom (2000) 30 EHRR CD 362); c)       The claimant must be someone who “is (or would be) a victim of the unlawful act” (section 7(1) of the HRA); and d)      The limitation period for HRA claims is one year (section 7(5) of the HRA). Although this is likely to be extendable pursuant to section 33 of the Limitation Act 1980.