The Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism (SARAH) Bill has been subjected to heavy scrutiny in both the House of Commons and House of Lords and is now awaiting Royal Assent before becoming law. The Bill, which in essence sets out the factors that a court must consider when determining negligence claims and breaches of statutory duty, has stemmed to a large extent from a desire to make the public aware that they should not have to feel reluctant when assisting others in need or volunteering acts of heroism in social activities. It has been contended by those drafting the legislation that people may currently be inhibited from such altruistic behaviour for fear of a negligence claim being brought against them, should such an act of bravery or rescue inadvertently cause harm.
Highly contentious and the subject of much derision, the Act will be treated with “disdain” by the courts, as alleged by shadow minister Andy Slaughter. The legislation will require judges to assess the circumstances and context of any alleged negligence, and whether the defendant had shown a ‘generally responsible’ attitude to health and safety. Described as “the most ridiculous piece of legislation approved by Parliament in a very long time” by Lord Pannick, concern has been expressed whether this Bill will result in changes to negligence law. Clarification certainly seems to be required whether the SARAH legislation intends to bestow any immunity from civil liability upon persons acting to assist others. If it does, surely this will have huge ramifications upon the law surrounding negligence and breaches of statutory duty as a whole. If it does not meaningfully affect anyone’s position in law, as contended by many MPs and commentators, then it could be argued that the legislation is pointless.
There does seem to be a point, however, to the Bill which is causing such a furore amongst the legal profession and politicians alike: perhaps the SARAH legislation is more about providing a message about the value of public action in aiding others and to allay fears of liability rather than making significant changes to the law? It is quite possible that this is merely an exercise in PR or spin, crafted by the Lord Chancellor, designed with a respect worthy purpose in mind. But does the end justify the means, namely a huge amount of time and expense spent in Parliament? And will the legislation be successful in its desired end? Time will tell.