On the 18th October, a first reading of the government’s Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill took place at the House of Commons. However, two day previously, a last minute clause was inserted, which may well give cause for concern to accident compensation solicitors and their clients who assume an automatic entitlement to seek redress in a personal injury claims case.
Prior to its journey through the House of Lords, the Bill, which makes provision to propose changes to a number of current trading acts, rights, employment and enterprise legislation, includes a section, which affects current workplace health and safety regulations.
The proposed changes concern the removal of the automatic right to claim injury compensation by an individual who has suffered an injury as a result of an employer’s breach of health and safety regulations. Instead the government seeks to introduce a provision for the claimant to prove from the outset that employer negligence has taken place.
Not only are the proposed changes seen as a diminution of protection rights currently afforded to employees, it is also feared that the accident claims process itself will become a much more lengthy and complicated process with profound cost implications.
Of equal concern is the likelihood of some unscrupulous companies who will completely ignore the health and safety concerns of their workforce in the belief that employees would be faced with the burden of having to produce proof of negligence that, “...would never stand up in court”.
There is already growing concern that those working in minimum wage industries, whose present terms and conditions of employment are already highly questionable, may be exposed to even greater vulnerability but whose opportunity for redress would be almost completely blocked by the added layer of legislation.
At this stage in the parliamentary process, a second and third reading of the Bill is to be set, followed by readings in the House of Lords, passing through committee and report stages in both Houses and possible further amendments to be made.
Whether the changes proposed stay in their present form remains to be seen but it’s worth noting that according to the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL). “...the Government gave itself until next summer to review this area of the law but instead it has been introduced at the last minute, when the Bill is halfway through its passage, without review and without consultation”.
The hasty inclusion at this stage in the proceedings may well be its own undoing!