LEGAL CORNER: Victims’ rights: too important to be thrown out with the Brexit bathwater

Since 1972, the European Parliament has been issuing directives to EU member states including the UK, with the aim of laying down a legal framework of minimum requirements and guiding principles for each national government to translate into their own national laws.

In the last 45 years it issued 240 such directives covering aspects of safety on the roads and at work, improving safety standards, and victims’ rights.

This has meant that UK citizens injured abroad are now empowered to turn to the UK courts in order to enforce their rights against EU employers, drivers and insurance companies – with the consequence that responsibility for an injured victim’s injuries and losses now lies in full with the European ‘offender’, saving UK taxpayers a significant amount in NHS treatment, social care and benefits.

Moreover, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (also based on an EU directive) has been widely credited with saving untold numbers of lives by forcing employers to pay proper attention to health and safety.

It paved the way for additional regulations including the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations that enforces employers’ strict liability for injuries caused by defective equipment.

In cases concerning victims injured abroad by untraced or uninsured EU drivers, the UK’s Motor Insurers Bureau is obliged to handle claims and extract payment guarantees from its foreign counterpart, thus saving victims from having to pursue and enforce their own overseas claims.

The UK government has stated its intention to combine ‘corrected’ EU laws with ours ahead of our exit from the EU; thereafter it will be up to the British Parliament and the UK Supreme Court to work out how this country’s victims will be protected.

It is widely accepted that EU law, with its founding principles of fairness and uniformity, has been a positive influence on the enforcement of victims’ rights – it remains to be seen how post-Brexit UK victims will be looked after. One important measure of a society is how it looks after its needy and vulnerable citizens, including those who have sustained injury through no fault of their own.

Experience has taught us that serious injury can happen to anyone at any time – so to those politicians who might be thinking that victims’ rights should be any less important in a post-EU world, I offer these cautionary words: be careful what you wish for.

:: Paul Fretwell is personal injury partner at George Ide LLP. He can be contacted for legal advice on 01243 812405.