Right of Reply

The vice-chair of the Bar Council answers criticism of the "culture of compensation"
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IT IS true that people are much readier to complain than they were in the past and to demand compensation. And, of course, some claims are trivial or ridiculous or even downright dishonest. But that is only part of the story.

There are two main reasons for the growth in complaints. First, the public is no longer deferential to public authority or to the professions. They will not put up with excuses or incompetence.

Second, Parliament has conferred new rights on the individual - rights in employment and rights not to be discriminated against on the grounds of sex, ethnic origin, or disability. These new rights have had a profound consequence for the way women and the ethnic minorities are treated. They will be equally significant for the treatment of the disabled.

Surely, this is something of which we should be proud. If new rights are conferred on the individual, we must expect them to be exercised.

The greatest problem lies with the public sector, especially some local councils and the police. That some public services are ineptly run is not the complainant's fault. It is deplorable that councils are so often found liable for racial and sexual discrimination and for unfair dismissal. The costs to local taxpayers are avoidable and unnecessary. They are a sign of bad management and poor claims-handling.

Next year, the European Convention on Human Rights will open up a new field of enforceable rights. With new rights will come new responsibilities. The challenge for the judiciary and the profession will be to maintain a sensible balance. Of course, the lawyers will be blamed for promoting "unwarranted" claims, but ultimately we are but a reflection of the society in which we all live.