My sincere apologies: MP proposes law allowing organisations to offer an apology without liability

December 15, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Tory MP John Howell proposed an aptly-named “Apologies Bill” earlier this week, under which organisations would be able to issue apologies to consumers without admitting legal liability for their mistakes.

What does this mean?

In an effort to introduce a new “era of civility” into the law, Conservative MP John Howell recently proposed a law that would enable organisations to apologise for their mistakes without accepting legal liability. His suggestion was heard in Parliament this week as a “ten-minute rule bill”, which allows a backbench MP to make a short speech advocating for the adoption of a new Bill. 

If passed, Howell believes his Apologies Bill would encourage companies to issue sincere apologies in response to complaints and allow the aggrieved party to resolve their dispute without the use of formal court proceedings. Notably, Howell (who is also Chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Alternative Dispute Resolutions) is not suggesting that the ability to take these organisations to court be removed, but rather that a simple apology may be sufficient to avoid the need for litigation in the first place.

What's the big picture effect?

Currently, law firms and legal professionals often discourage organisations from issuing apologies, as such statements may later be relied upon in court to indicate an admission of liability. 

Howell suggests that complainants often don’t want to instigate court proceedings, but short of receiving a meaningful apology, feel they have no other choice. He believes that this Bill, similar to legislation used in both Hong Kong and the US, could have a positive effect on the way organisations respond to complaints, lead to an increase in extrajudicial settlements and thereby reduce the need for costly litigation.

If Howell is correct in his belief that an apology without acceptance of wrongdoing would be sufficient in the eyes of the complainants, the enactment of this legislation means law firms would likely see an increase in the need for arbitration services, and a corresponding decrease in the need for litigation.

Despite Howell’s claims that his proposal has received cross-party support however, others are slightly more sceptical. According to law academic John Bates of Northumbria Law School, the Compensation Act 2006 already states that an apology “shall not of itself amount to an admission of negligence or breach of statutory duty”. He feels the Apologies Bill would lead to little more than a reiteration of the current law and a waste of Parliamentary resources.

While it’s unlikely that we’ll see the Apologies Bill become law any time soon, Howell’s ten-minute rule proposal raises interesting questions as to the scope of the current law and reluctance of organisations to apologise when mistakes are made. After all, sometimes a simple “sorry” goes a long way!

Report written by Jade Jordan

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