Simon Carr: It's a risky business – someone might sue...

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The Independent Online

And the Better Regulation Task Force begat the Better Regulation Commission which begat the Risk and Regulation Advisory Council which begat a workshop-based interactive policy-making conversation which will beget, if I know anything about these things, a task force for better regulation.

If you suffer from low blood pressure, I recommend a visit to the RRAC website and follow the link to their report The Next Frontier for Better Regulation. Its prose is the seedbed for the next revolution. There will come a generation that simply won't put up with this suffocating, political-class administrativeness any more. The administrationism is unbearable.

The press briefing gives us to believe it's a government initiative to counter the "cotton wool state". The packets of nuts with warnings "May contain nuts". The pantomime actors prevented from throwing sweets into the audience in case they hit a child. The stories are famous and by no means apocryphal.

The Council asks this perfectly good question: When should the state manage risk through regulation, and when should people be allowed to manage the risk themselves?

They have no answer.

Look: councils don't put swings in new playgrounds. It's not because a child might fall off and hurt himself but because the parents will take it to court for compensation. They will probably fail, but going to court costs the council. So it becomes as risk-averse as possible.

So they cut down street trees, and prohibit swimming in lakes, and ban hanging baskets... not for the sake of public safety but to save public money. It makes sense. It may not be desirable but you can see why they do it.

The gravestones are a case in point. A child was killed in a graveyard accident but not one stone was lain flat until three years afterwards when the parents were awarded damages in court.

That's the essence of this low-level risk aversion. How do you stop people suing?

The consequences can be serious. Some years ago, an attacker in Henley laid two women low with profusely bleeding wounds. The attacker ran off. Neighbours did what they could to help. The police arrived and snapped into action. For an hour, they stood off conducting a risk assessment. The neighbours pleaded for medics but the officer in charge reasoned the attacker might still be on site and forcing these people to say the coast was clear. You know, to lure the police into a trap. The two women died. They bled to death while constables and medics stood off, watching, assessing the risk.

Those are the rules. Because if an officer was hurt or killed, his family could sue, possibly for millions. How do you stop that?

David Lammy saw the same thing in a drive-by shooting on the Broadwater estate. A boy was lying bleeding at his feet but the police wouldn't approach before the risk assessment was complete (it took 20 minutes; about a pint's worth). This was despite Lammy, running across to them and demanding action. But no, not until the risk had been assessed. Lammy was really going to put this right, he said at the time. But what could he do? He was just a government minister.

Compensation claims are falling, it's true, but still, hundreds of millions get paid out every year. And even the claims that fail cost public bodies enormous sums to defend.

This is only obliquely referred to in the Council's administrative Esperanto. All we know for sure is that they will be entirely ineffectual.

Take my organs...for a price

If anyone wants any of my organs – and you'd want to choose carefully because some are more attractive than others – I've no objection. In fact, I'm flattered. As long as I'm not using them at the time.

But I fail to see why the state should assume it can have them.

Politicians have lived too long in a world of donations. Let them pay, like anyone else. It's not much to ask. We could undercut the market a bit, but they really ought to pay something, just to show willing.

The state makes free with our assets all through our burdened lives (and what thanks did you get?), the least we deserve is a little token at the end, to boost the value of our estates.

* There is a risk that we victims of telecommunications companies will finally give in to primitive urges and form our own militia.

Several readers have written with their experiences of TalkTalk. The common theme was... far too much talktalk (along with screamscream and crycry) and hour upon hour listening to the tinny version of "We're Gonna Do It Together". Maybe that'll be the battle cry of our militia?

But writing to Charles Dunstone, who runs this company, seems to have no effect. He just doesn't reply.

All right, we're not going to form a militia. Here's a better idea.

Charge them for your time. Send them a bill for £127. When they don't pay, file at the small claims court. If the company doesn't turn up to defend itself, you'll probably get judgement in your favour.

Let me know if you do it and I'll come along and cover the case for the paper.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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