CIArb Features

Ten Minute Rule - The effect of an apology in certain legal proceedings

22 Dec 2020

John Howell MP ACIArb took the floor during Parliament’s Ten Minute Rule on Monday, 1 December 2020. He started by noting how the proposed bill would not take away any rights currently enjoyed by all in relation to taking an issue to court. What it would do, however, is introduce an element of civility and common sense by allowing for an apology to be given that is genuinely and sincerely meant without creating a legal liability for the apologising party.

Simply put, John Howell argued, an apology which does not create a legal liability will oftentimes settle a dispute rather than being seen as an admission of wrongdoing. An apology should be the mark of both a mature democratic society, and – in the context of its dispute resolution system – be allowed to be meaningful and helpful rather than simply a necessary yet token gesture.

John Howell continued to explain the driving force behind the policy as the power of the apology to “unlock” avenues for resolving a dispute that otherwise would not be open to the parties and how changing the emerging culture of companies not wanting to apologize over fears of it being detrimental to their legal position could be critical to avoid future tragedies like that of Grenfell Tower.

“A fresh ‘Apologies Act’ would be a clear Westminster statement, as well as a simple legal mechanism, to help improve our country’s conversation”, Howell argued. Noting how it could “incentivise disputing parties to make apologies, whether in the direct aftermath of an accident, mistake or other dispute, or further down the line should the dispute escalate, with a view to achieving a more amicable resolution. ”

Looking outwards, John Howell noted how not only a majority of U.S. states have so called “apology statutes”, but that several other countries has adopted similar notions, Australia, Canada, and Hong-Kong to mention a few. Howell then noted how the approach taken by Holyrood with the Scottish Apologies Act of 2016 now makes it possible to apologise without fear of prejudicing the person making the apology or for the apology to be used as an instrument for appointing blame in litigation.

Howell subsequently quoted mediator extraordinaire John Sturrock QC and cited the APPG report he recently was a large part of, noting several key aspects of both the Scottish law and the Report. He concluded that the Scottish approach to the notion of apologies and reiterated how a similar approach could aid in bringing about a paradigm shift through an Apologies Act of our own.

Ludvig Hambraeus

Policy & Public Affairs Officer