Feeling Harrassed, Love?

Acts of Parliament are nice and all, but hardly necessary most of the time. There is a reason that the system of government in this country is called an elective dictatorship. Women and Equalities Minister Harriet Harman has once again demonstrated how this works.

Using a statutory instrument, which is basically ministerial fiat, she has decided that rules about sexual harrassment are going to change. Employers will now be held responsible for the acts of customers. I say “acts,” but the amount of action required to support a demand for compensation is quite minimal.

Calling a barmaid or a shop assistant “love”, “darling”, or even “young lady” will be enough. Since this is common parlance for a large segment of society, it will not take long for it to happen three times. That’s the minium for making a claim. Not three times from the same customer, or three times in the same day – just three times total.

It is anticipated that large notices warning customers will be posted everywhere on business premises. However, given that pubs, as well as restaurants and other leisure environments where alcohol is served, deal with a significant number of customers whose inhibitions have been reduced, it may be difficult for them to restrain themselves from such sexual harrasment, not to mention more egregious violations, such as asking a female staff member on a date.

Any claim made will be assumed to be proved. The burden of proof will be on employers to prove that they were not at fault. And remember, what is or is not harrassment is entirely up to the subjective feelings of the person claiming to have been offended. The employer doesn’t even need to have had prior notice that the employee would find a particular familiarity by a customer to be offensive.

This will all be enforced by tribunals run by the Government’s Commission for Equality and Human Rights. More bureaucrats.

Paying for an Apology

The new Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, has apologised to Aborigines who were taken from their families under the policy of assimilation. While I’m not in favour of apologies for wrongs committed before living memory, I think this apology is perfectly acceptable. After all, this policy continued into the 1970s and the damage done by it very directly affects the lives of people today.

But as with all these social apologies, there are still some who think it hasn’t gone far enough. Some human rights lawyers want Britain to apologise as well. Since the policy started in the 1880s under colonial rule, which lasted until 1901, they feel the British should bear some of the responsibility. I feel not.

I’m not just concerned that British taxpayers could then be subject to legal claims like Australian taxpayers are about experience. This is not hypothetical or conjectural. One Aborigine, Bruce Trevorrow, won A$525,000 (£220,000) in the South Australian Supreme Court last year after proving he had been treated illegally and with negligence when he was taken from his parents as a baby. Previously, claims such as Trevorrow’s would have been limited because of the lack of a paper trail in many situations. Claims also would not have extended to people generations removed from the actual act of being taken away from their brith family.

The official apology from the Government could create lines of legal causation – proximate cause – that could empty the Australian treasury. I have great sympathy for Trevorrow and the Stolen Generation. I think those who can make claims for themselves should either do so or persuade the Australian to set up a compensation fund. I don’t think the British (or I, as a UK taxpayer)  should pay for this too.

Everyone Must Pay

I feel very bad for Mrs A. She was raped 19 years ago by a despicable man, Iorworth Hoare. He went to prison and she only got £5,000 from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.  The six-year statute of limitations for pursuing a civil claim for damages passed.

Then, as if just to prove the Jesus’ words that the Father “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust,”Hoare won £7 million on the lottery. Mrs A saw a chance to cash in. I don’t blame her – she has a moral edge on most of those who attempt to tap lottery winners. She was wronged by him in a most terrible way. But that doesn’t mean he should have to pay.

Statutes of limitations are there for a reason. Iorworth Hoare has paid for his crime with the irreplaceable commodity of his time. Whether you agree that his sentence was sufficient, it was passed by a lawfully appointed judge of competent jurisdiction. If any other claim is not brought in a timely manner, he has the right to move on with his life.

There is also a public policy reason the contrary decision by the House of Lords is bad. Delivered in a social and political climate that sex crimes are not the same as any other crimes, it opens the floodgates for more litigation against any  possible or potential defendant at any time during the life of the plaintiff. The law lords specifically included child sex abuse claims with adult rape claims. One of the victorious co-plaintiffs in appeal is someone who was abused in 1977.  His solicitor estimated that there could be as many as 6,000 cases already underway, waiting for this favourable ruling.

This is going to have an massive impact on the public purse. Every local authority is going to be hit by claims from any former child who suffered any sort of abuse while in social care. Not only that, but they will also be hit by suits from people who start to “remember” that they were abused, even though the putative abusers may be long dead, because there is always a legal successor to any government entity and it is funded by the taxpayer. Talk about hitting the lottery.