What have the Romans ever done for us?

4 Jul

I am sure that you will recognise the famous question from Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian”.  I sometimes feel that within the trade union movement there are analogies with civil justice issues and civil justice reform.

As a trade unionist first and foremost, and to that being a lawyer certainly comes a distant second, I am very conscious of the large number of extremely important issues that we must face together as a movement particularly in the coming years with the financial situation and the Con-not-so-Dem coalition in power.  We have poverty and inequality to fight at every turn and there is no doubt that the law can play an important role, particularly on the equality agenda through discrimination and employment laws.

Against this backdrop, civil justice can often be forgotten or ignored.  The fact however is that, particularly with the Scottish Parliament having significant powers in this area and it being very accessible to a well oiled lobbying and legislative reform machine such as Unite, that parliamentary civil justice reform can have a substantial impact upon the lives of ordinary men, women and children by redressing inequality between worker and employer and making workplaces are safer.

Unite has a very proud history here in working with Thompsons in the few short years that we have had the Scottish Parliament.  Along with other interested organisations such as Clydeside Action on Asbestos we have already delivered:

The Damages (Scotland) Act 2011 which will ensure that the families of fatal accidents and disease receive proper and full compensation

  • The Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) (Scotland) Act 2009 which overturned the disgraceful decision of the House of Lords in relation to pleural plaques and re-established pleural plaques as an injury for which compensation should be paid
  • The Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) Act 2007 which ended the situation where a dying victim of asbestos found himself in the invidious situation where he had to decide whether to settle his case before he died in order that he could get some small amount in money to assist him in his last few days or for his case to continue beyond his death in order that his spouse could, posthumously, obtain higher compensation by saying that both the deceased and the deceased’s spouse should be compensated before and after the death.

Although a lot of good has been done through civil justice reform there is still a lot more to do.  There is also the need to fight changes which would have the opposite effect, such as the changes proposed by Lord Gill to the civil court system which will undoubtedly see health and safety marginalised and work place accidents rise.

I will therefore continue to do my bit by fighting on the civil justice front as part of our wider political  and justice strategy.  We each have to do our own bit in areas where we have skill and influence to make a difference. To use the footballing analogy, we each must play to our strengths.

I will finish with another quote,  the final line from one of my favourite poems, which I think sums up the point that we each must do what we do best and with our collective efforts we can bring about real change:

Between my finger and my thumb

The Squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.

(Seamus Heaney, ‘Digging’)

by Patrick McGuire


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