The recent House of Lords decision in the case of Spencer-Franks v Kellogg Brown and Root Limited and others is of importance for its widening of the scope of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. It is also important for one other reason and that is that it illustrates the fallacy which underlies the argument that, what are described as being "low value personal injury cases" should not be raised in the Court of Session.
It appears to be argued by some that such personal injury cases do not belong in Scotland's highest civil Court because they do not raise any important legal issues. Mr Spencer-Franks' case amply shows that to be wrong. The injuries suffered by the unfortunate Mr Spencer-Franks in this case seem to have been of a painful and unfortunate kind but because, presumably, any amount of wage loss was relatively limited, the amount of compensation at stake in the case was relatively limited. Despite that limited value to the case the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords in considering the scope of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations and particularly the definition of work equipment had to consider the European Union Directive which led to the introduction of the Regulation and the Law Lords considered and effectively overruled a previous decision on approximately the same point from the English Court of Appeal. It was not, therefore, a simple case. In reaching its view the House of Lords did not take into account the relatively limited value of the case and in doing so showed quite clearly that cases which can be glibly dismissed as of being of limited value are just as capable of raising important legal points which require judicial consideration and determination, as cases of higher monetary value.
Indeed many personal injury lawyers would be of the view that important matters of interpretation of European Union derived Law are much more likely to arise in a personal injury case than in a contractual dispute between two large companies where the sum at stake may run to hundreds of thousands of pounds but where the issues of fact and Law may be very straightforward.
What is frankly worrying for Scottish citizens who wish to see their Courts open to all those seeking justice, is that there is a movement afoot apparently supported by Civil Servants and some Judges which would prevent personal injury cases being decided in the Court of Session on the basis that these are not "important enough" but at the same time which would welcome with open arms apparently high value commercial disputes which might have no natural connection with Scotland at all and which may very well raise no important legal points whatsoever.
Cases such as Spencer-Franks ought to serve as a "wakeup call" but will only do so if those who have questioned the necessity of the Court of Session dealing with personal injury cases are prepared to reconsider their previously expressed views.