That was the claim made today (Tuesday April 19) by Patrick McGuire of Thompsons Solicitors, Scotland’s leading personal injury specialists.
Speaking at the Scottish TUC conference in Dundee, Mr McGuire called for a change in Scots civil law to allow employees to receive full legal costs in the case of a successful action including a payment to their union to cover the costs of insuring the action.
Pointing to Scotland’s appalling work place accident statistics with 61 fatalities last year Mr McGuire said the civil courts spoke a language that employers understood – money.
He said:”It is a sad fact that certain employers will only improve their workplace when faced with a court action so an action by one person can improve conditions for the whole workforce.”
Mr McGuire also claimed that a new proposal to increase the financial limits of personal injury claims to be considered by the Court of Session was now threatening to strike a fatal blow to trade union legal services.
He said the proposal to increase the cash limits from £1500 to £5000 was being looked at by the Scottish Parliament and was supported by consumer groups who wanted to see the smaller claims dealt with by Sheriff Courts.
He warned that if personal injury cash limits were changed up to 75 per cent of personal injury cases would be dispersed to Sheriff Courts diluting the specialist legal service to a point where it would be financially unviable.
He called on the Scottish Executive to redress the imbalance between Scottish and English victims and to provide Scottish unions with the same level of resources in a bid to cut the levels of accidents north of the border.
The problem was not with the law but with enforcement and providing the trade union legal services with the necessary funding to enable them to pursue more court cases at the Court of Session.
In Scotland chronic under funding for the Health and Safety executive meant unscrupulous employers were under no threat to change their ways and as a result workers were being injured, maimed or killed.
Mr McGuire said the primary purpose of Health and Safety legislation was not to punish negligent employers but to prevent accidents happening in the first place. There was now a need to introduce dynamic and proactive remedies that would give workers and their unions real powers of prevention.
Mr McGuire said:” The Scottish Executive continues to develop legislation for criminal justice and land reform but has completely failed to pick up the mantle in relation to civil justice to improve the law in an area that affects every Scottish citizen. The time has come for all that to change.”
“We need to move away from the idea that workplaces can only be made safer after someone is injured. Prevention is the real goal of health and safety legislation and may bring us closer to the day where no-one goes to work and returns home injured or perhaps doesn’t return home at all.”