The trouble with SARAH

The Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill (SARAH) was debated in Parliament yesterday (21 July 2014).

The Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, on introduction of the new legislation in June 2013, stated that the measures proposed within it were set to tackle a ‘perception’ that people are at risk of being sued if they do something for the common good or in an emergency situation.

Many people asked whether a perception of a problem is enough of a premise on which to base legislation especially when it is arguable that it has been perpetrated by the Government proposing the legislation?

During yesterday’s debate Mr Grayling pointed to Daytime television advertisements as fuelling a rise in personal injury claims, insisting that society is becoming “increasingly litigious” despite the country being safer than ever and proposed that the bill would bring “balance to the health and safety culture”.

However shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan labeled the Bill “pathetic” adding “Nothing in
 this Bill reduces the prospect of being sued.

“It won’t reduce, as you describe, the stress and strain if they are sued.

“Instead of your Bill, your energies and those of your officials would
have been better spent rebutting some of the myths around negligence and
health and safety.”

So what is the reality?

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Not listening then, Not listening now

Frances Swaine, Managing Partner of Leigh Day has over 25 years’ experience of representing survivors of sexual abuse and a member of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, discusses why she thinks the ‘establishment’ are still not listening to survivors.

Twelve years ago, in June 2002, I gave evidence to the home affairs select committee into the conduct of investigations into past cases of child abuse in children’s homes.

The Committee was set up in response to the very large number of accusations of paedophilia in institutions that were being uncovered at the end of the last century.

From this committee hearing came a wide variety of recommendations, which have essentially driven all forms of legal involvement with child abuse since that time.

There were a total of 27 witnesses, and more than 200 written submissions to the committee. To the best of my knowledge no survivor of child abuse was invited to give evidence so these allegations were never heard first hand or, in my opinion, dealt with fully.

Could this not have uncovered Jimmy Savile’s crimes in his lifetime?

It is therefore not surprising that these accusations have again come to the public’s attention, some of them against the very most powerful people in the country.

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Hesitating whether to tell?

Why mandatory reporting must be enshrined in child protection legislation.

In a week which has seen Rolf Harris convicted of 12 counts of indecent assault and sentenced to over 5 years in prison alongside the ‘loss’ of the Dickens’ dossier which exposed alleged paedophiles in Westminster, the same question keeps being asked: why has it taken so long for these disturbing events to come to light?

One reason is surely that there has never been a legal obligation for staff working in schools, hospitals and care homes to report incidents of suspected abuse.

Whilst the current statutory guidance urges professionals to disclose child abuse to the police or Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO), there are no legal repercussions if they fail to do so. This means that other factors – concerns about the institution’s reputation, confusion as to what was witnessed and connections to the alleged perpetrator – can result in early signs of abuse being brushed under the carpet.

Mandate Now, a coalition of groups which represent abuse survivors, is calling for the introduction of mandatory reporting of child abuse. This would require professionals working in ‘Regulated Activities’ (schools, hospitals, care homes and similar institutions as defined in the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006) who know or suspect child abuse to inform the LADO or children’s services, or face a criminal prosecution.

It is clear that discretionary reporting does not adequately safeguard victims. A legal requirement to disclose abuse should be as normal a component of the UK’s child protection framework as CRB checks, alongside appropriate training for the professionals concerned.

Jonathan West, a child protection campaigner who helped to uncover child abuse at Ealing Abbey & St. Benedict’s School, has stressed that, alongside the introduction of mandatory reporting, schools and other institutions must review their individual safeguarding policies to ensure that staff are properly equipped to identify and address suspicions of child abuse.

Arguments that mandatory reporting will not better protect children, or that social services will be deluged with an unmanageable caseload, fail to recognise the vast difference that it could have made to some abuse survivors.   From the cases I work on, it is clear that time and time again a blind eye was turned to the abuse that was occurring. Had mandatory reporting already been in force, there would have been a non-negligible duty to ensure that suspicions of child abuse did not remain within the institution’s walls.

In this regard, it is encouraging that the NSPCC appears to be reviewing its hitherto held position against mandatory reporting. As a leading child protection charity, I urge it to add its very powerful voice to the campaign for this to be a key component of child safeguarding.

Mandatory reporting alone cannot ensure that child abuse in Regulated Activities is brought out into the open, but, coupled with careful training, it can stop professionals from hesitating to act upon suspicions of child abuse and prevent a culture where eye-brows are raised, but nothing is done.

Alison Millar is a Partner at Leigh Day and head of the firm’s abuse team. She represents survivors of child abuse and campaigns for reform in order to safeguard children and vulnerable adults. Follow Alison on twitter at @AllymMillar.

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Filed under Abuse, Human Rights

Zero Sense

zero digital clock

Following on from the public consultation exercise earlier this year, the Government has finally announced what it intends to do to crack down on employers who abuse zero hours contracts; it will be banning exclusivity clauses.

Banning exclusivity clauses will result in precisely NO benefit at all to the overwhelming majority of zero-hours workers.

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Flexible Working in an Inflexible World

 

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“You feel your tree is breaking – Just bend” go the lyrics of a late 90’s song You Get What You Give by The New Radicals. A cracking good tune but also sage advice for those aspiring for a better work life balance.

The trouble is that for many employees even if they want to bend, their ability to do so is severely restricted by having a decidedly un-bendy employer.

From 30 June 2014 new Flexible Working Regulations coming into force. The 2014 Regulations revoke the previous 2002 flexible working rules which limited the statutory right to request flexible working to parents of children under 17 (18 if the child is disabled) or to carers of adults.

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Doctors know best…don’t they?

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Doctors are often held in awe by patients; rightly so in most respects given that doctors are the ones that sometimes quite literally hold your life in their hands, or at the very least can offer you control of the disease you are suffering or relief from the pain you are experiencing.

Of course, they are also the ones with the years of medical training and with medical experience and expertise, when usually as the patient you have little knowledge or experience of the medical condition you are suffering, except perhaps through an internet search which often is more confusing or misleading than helpful.

So, it is not surprising that patients are willing to accept a doctor’s advice sometimes without question – ‘doctor knows best’.

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An appreciation of carers

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Looking back on last week’s appreciation of carers during Carers Week 2014, I have been thinking about what it is that all those millions of unpaid carers do that is so important. I don’t mean the practical help they provide, though of course the feeding, washing, transporting, organising, shopping and endless other tasks they perform are hugely important. I am thinking more of the emotional and, if you like, moral (in its broadest sense) dimensions of caring. Is there anything more valuable in society than the willingness of one person to spend significant resources (time, money, love) – chunks of their own one life – attending to the needs of another? It strikes me that this is one of the most civilised ways in which we express our humanity.

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Raise your voice, not the sea level on World Environment Day


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We may be Great Britain but we are also a small island. As such, we sit on a wealth of clean, green renewable energy from the wind, the sun, and the sea. If harnessed, these resources would provide us with enough energy to serve our own needs and sell the surplus to Europe.

We have known for years that we need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. The burning of coal, oil and gas is responsible for two thirds of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and, in turn, climate change.

Addressing “global warming” raises difficult choices for all of us. It means more wind farms (in the right places), tidal power (ditto), skype, seasonal food and solar panels and less oil, gas, coal and foreign travel.

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Birth without doctors: know the risks

Newborn baby girl

“Pregnant women who are considered to be a low risk of complications in labour should be encouraged to give birth at home or in midwifery led units rather than hospital wards where doctors are present.”

This is the new guidance proposed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to be given to midwives.

It’s been welcomed by many including the National Childbirth Trust, who point to studies demonstrating that women who give birth outside labour wards are less likely to undergo medical interventions such as Caesarean Section, are more likely to have a positive experience of childbirth and will have shorter recovery times.

For women who do not experience any serious complications in childbirth, it is easy to see the advantages of giving birth in the intimate surroundings of a home.

Why deliver your baby in the cold, clinical surroundings of a hospital when you could be in the warmth of your home or in the holistic surroundings of a midwifery led birth unit? Pregnancy is not an illness after all and should not be treated as such. Proponents of home birth describe the empowering experience labour can be for women who make the choice to deliver their babies without medical intervention.

For mothers who have experienced complications during childbirth at home or in midwifery led units, however, the new proposed NICE guidance will be greeted with concern.

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The ‘Ridiculisation of Law’

Corporal Stephen Allbutt was killed in a 'friendly fire' incident in Iraq in March 2003

Corporal Stephen Allbutt who was killed At the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003 during the assault on Basra

Yesterday, the House of Commons Defence Committee released a report claiming that recent court cases by injured service men and women alleging negligence against the Ministry of Defence (MoD) risk the ‘judicialisation of war’.

The Committee expressed a particular concern about a recent Supreme Court judgment Smith, Allbutt and Others v MoD [2013] UKSC 41 in which Leigh Day is acting for some of the claimants.

Apparently, commanders on the battlefield increasingly fear they will be subjected to legal action challenging their operational decisions such that they are becoming unwilling to assume responsibility or take necessary risks.

The Committee’s report follows in the footsteps of a scaremongering report released by the right wing think-tank Policy Exchange last year called “The Fog of Law”.

It was therefore no surprise when Defence Secretary Philip Hammond lauded the Committee’s report and claimed that legal challenges to “legitimate combat decisions” could “make it more difficult for our troops to carry out operations in the future.”

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