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Hillsborough Law – What does it mean?

19 September 2016

Our newest trainee, Abeer Sharma, analyses The Public Authorities Accountabilities Bill – a draft Bill launched by victims’ families would see public figures prevented from minimising responsibility at inquests
The 1989 Hillsborough Disaster – where 96 Liverpool Football club fans died in a human crush at a match in Sheffield, has left an indelible mark; particularly with respect to the tireless 27-year campaign fought by the families of the deceased to clear the names of their loved ones. This has been despite a cavalcade of media smears and the concerted effort of South Yorkshire Police and other public institutions to deflect blame onto the dead; framed within the prevalence of football hooliganism at the time of the disaster.

The Reason

The success of the campaign has recently led to the presentation of a new bill – The Public Authorities Accountabilities Bill or “Hillsborough Law”. The second inquest into the disaster laid bare the sheer scale of the depths to which the force and ambulance service sank in order to swerve accountability, defend narrow organisational interests and unnecessarily obfuscate public inquiry into their own wrongdoing. Indeed, Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police David Crompton was suspended largely down to the conduct of the force’s lawyers during the inquest and its aftermath.

At common law there already exists a “duty of candour” and in statute under Regulation 20 Health and Social Care (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014 in the context of healthcare. However, these duties have proven too narrow in their application. Other major public administrative failures such as at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust and child sexual abuse in Rochdale and Rotherham along with Hillsborough has given succour to the desire to codify and broaden the application of this duty within statute.

The Law

Hillsborough Law aims to ensure that all public authorities, officials and servants are under a duty to act in the interest of the public. Sections 1-3 of the bill read:

1. Public authorities and public servants and officials shall at all times act within their powers:

(i) In the public interest,

(ii) With transparency, candour and frankness.

2. Public authorities, public servants and officials shall be under a duty to assist court proceedings, official inquiries and investigations:

(i) Relating to their own activities, or

(ii) Where their acts or omissions are or may be relevant.

3. In discharging the positive duty under section 2, public authorities, public servants and officials shall:

(i) Act with proper expedition,

(ii) Act with transparency, candour and frankness,

(iii) Act without favour to their own position,

(iv) Make full disclosure of relevant documents, material and facts,

(v) Set out their core position on the relevant matters at the outset of the proceedings, inquiry or investigation,

(vi) Provide further information and clarification as ordered by a court or inquiry.

These sections impose robust, broad duties on those within the public sphere to be as open and honest as possible in discharging their general duties and conducting court proceedings, subject to few exceptions. Under Section 7, the duties in sections 1-2 also apply to private law matters where there is a public element.

Sections 10-12 are where the legislation starts to bare its teeth. In summary, subject to the exception of criminal investigation, a public official’s intention to not comply with the duties imposed by section 2 or recklessness in discharging their section 2 duties will make that person liable. Further, the bill catches those involved at the time of an incident who may no longer be involved with/employed at that particular public institution for omitting to provide witness statements and materials relating to their conduct and knowledge at the time of the incident.

What are the penalties? Section 15 is unambiguous on this:

15. “The penalty for an offence under any of sections 10, 11 or 12 shall be a term of imprisonment not exceeding X years and/or a fine not exceeding £Y”

What next?

The proposed bill will be looked at by the Bishop James Jones in his review. How the draft bill proceeds from there is yet to be seen and should it be put before Parliament, there is bound to be fevered discussion and amendments made before such legislation can be passed.

However, what we know at this juncture is that Hillsborough Law is a brave attempt to end the defensive, self-serving approach of public institutions when faced starkly by their severe failings. Time will tell whether the bill becomes law, but public appetite will likely be for this being a further battle that the families of the deceased and their legal teams can eventually win.

Accreditation & Endorsements

Mike Lennon
Mike Lennon
23:01 21 Oct 19
Andrew king from Lennons Solicitors is excellent at what he does. Having conducted research around various firms based upon expertise and reviews I opted to instruct Lennon's Solicitors. My point of contact was Pauline Barber who took my initial information. I was then referred to Andrew in respect of a sensitive property / probate matter, which was a very stressful situation for my mother. Suffice to say Andrew was personal but professional in his approach, explaining everything in a way you can understand, whilst providing clear options in how to progress matters. He was helpful in resolving any queries and concerns which were raised. This not only helped me tremendously in obtaining the correct information he required but it also made matters stress free and easy for my mother to understand. Pauline assisted in proceedings when Andrew was not available and all messages left received prompt responses by both Pauline and Andrew. Overall Lennon's were selected for their reputation and expertise in the field i required. Suffice to say Lennon's did not fail to deliver and Andrew is a damn good solicitor, who I would recommend 100%.read more
Rachel Moore
Rachel Moore
12:50 16 Oct 19
I've used Todd Bowsher for buying/selling property twice now and both times have been straight forward and stress-free. It became apparent to me in buying my latest flat the importance of having a good solicitor and I can't recommend Todd, and Lennons, highly enough.read more
Bob Falana
Bob Falana
12:21 14 Oct 19
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Scott Hamilton
Scott Hamilton
10:35 02 Oct 19
Lennons worked on a commercial lease for me. They performed this task quickly and efficiently. Easy to work with.
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Martin Nash
14:50 01 Oct 19
Ros at Lennons recently acted for me with a house purchase. Excellent service, she kept me well informed throughout, the process, seemed really knowledgeable and chased things along when necessary. Would highly recommend. Competitive fee for a quality service. Thanks Ros.read more
Susan Harris
Susan Harris
11:04 26 Sep 19
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Katie Hughes-Jones
11:23 18 Sep 19
We had a great experience with Todd at Lennons. He did everything he could to move things along as quickly and as efficiently as possible as well as always been available for advice.read more
Dan Farrell
Dan Farrell
21:16 16 Sep 19
Efficient, diligent and understanding service from Todd and the team. We really appreciated the advice and accurate conveyancing service.read more
Adam Gibson
Adam Gibson
14:03 05 Aug 19
Ros Nolan was a pleasure to work with on the purchase of our new home. Her expertise and knowledge helped in maintaining an easy, smooth process. I'd highly recommend Ros' services to any other first time buyers.read more
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Heidi Scully
18:49 26 Jul 19
I had never sold a house before and didn't know quite what to expect. Roz or Diane were always quick to answer the phone or emails. The whole process ran smoothly and I was always kept informed along the way how things were going. Thank you very much !read more
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Kieran Byrne
14:29 28 Jun 19
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Alison Chauhan
11:32 25 Jun 19
Lennons Solicitors were highly recommended by 2 lots of friends and Lennons lived up to our expectations when selling a house in York via probate and some very technical aspects linked to Land Registry - we live in Bucks - and the whole process was very efficient and economic under Ros Nolan who proved to be a very safe pair of hands. We were fully kept in the picture throughout the process with an outcome we were looking for. We will appoint Lennons for legal services in the future and would recommend Lennons to others as well. Alison an Bal Chauhanread more
Sarah Quane
Sarah Quane
11:54 19 Jun 19
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Chris Barrett
Chris Barrett
15:31 17 Jun 19
Rezaul dealt with the conveyancing of our residential property. As first time buyers, we were kept informed throughout the process and exchange and completion were almost seamless. Many thanks for a smooth process, highly recommended.read more
Valerie Gollar
Valerie Gollar
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Early New Business
Early New Business
09:41 22 May 19
Rezaul Haque did a great job for my family, purchasing the Freehold of their property. Rezaul acted in an efficient, timely fashion, with a very professional manner at all stages of the transactionread more
Dick Tillett
Dick Tillett
14:24 25 Apr 19
Rezaul Haque has been a great help in what has been a difficult time. He has been very quick at returning phone calls and emails. He handled my commercial property lease efficiently. I would not hesitate to work with him again and I would happily recommend Lennons.read more
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Giles Leather
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Victor Surana
20:36 14 Mar 19
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Rich Perfumerie
Rich Perfumerie
13:11 27 Feb 19
Rezaul did a fantastic job with our commercial lease. Wouldn’t hesitate to use him and Lennons again Highly recommendedread more
Innervision 1
Innervision 1
10:29 11 Feb 19
Rezaul Haque from Lennons dealt with the lease on our new office. He was efficient, thorough and most professional despite some trying circumstances. He made my job that much easier. Thank you.read more
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Matt Crisp
17:21 29 Jan 19
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