‘New era of civility’ in disputes awaits under ‘apologies’ law, ministers told

Organisations should be allowed to issue apologies without being held liable under the law, ministers are to be told.

The proposed Apologies Bill aims to introduce a “new era of civility” and help people reach a “proper settlement” of their dispute before it appears in court.

Conservative John Howell will ask MPs on Tuesday to allow his proposed legislation to be introduced for further consideration in the House of Commons.

He wants changes to be made to the legal system across England and Wales which would allow apologies to be issued in certain proceedings.

Mr Howell said such a move is overdue after countries including Scotland previously made provision for such action to be taken.

MP portraits
MP portraits

Speaking to the PA news agency, Mr Howell (Henley) said: “Let me start by saying what the Bill does not do.

“It does not take away any rights that individuals have to take an organisation to court if that’s what they want to do.

“But what it does do is introduce a new era of civility to these discussions because in my role as the chairman of the APPG on Alternative Dispute Resolutions, I’m absolutely convinced that most people do not simply want to start by taking the organisation that they have a complaint with to the cleaners.

“And what they require is a decent apology and at the moment one of the things that prevents that decent apology is that the lawyers advise that the apology cannot be given because it creates a liability.

“So this takes away the legal liability that comes with issuing an apology.”

Mr Howell said that he had spoken to a number of organisations ahead of bringing forward his Bill.

He said: “I think that the change is very significant for a number of organisations including the NHS.

“I think the whole dispute over Grenfell Tower for example would have taken a different character if there had been allowed to be proper apologies at the beginning.”

The Conservative MP highlighted the introduction of such provision to allow apologies to be made in other nations, as well as several states across the US.

Mr Howell explained: “This is a Bill that has been introduced in Scotland. I have to say, the Scots haven’t used it very effectively, but nevertheless it was introduced in Scotland.

“It was also introduced in Hong Kong before the current troubles with the Chinese and it’s been introduced in most American states.

“So even in one of the most litigious countries in the world, they do accept that people can make an apology without creating the legal liability.”

He continued: “I do think it’s overdue.

“I think that it is one of the tools that it will be lovely to see in existence from the point of alternative dispute resolution because I think it will help people reach a proper settlement of their dispute before it appears in the High Court.”

The Bill has received cross-party support, said Mr Howell, although it will need support from the Government in order to boost its chances of making progress.

He added: “I have had support across the House, I’ve had support from people like (Labour MPs) John Spellar and Chris Bryant, even from the SNP, as well as from senior members on my own side.”