The law could be updated to make it easier for organisations to offer sincere apologies to those who have been wronged.

  • Consultation on clarifying the law to encourage organisations to apologise more
  • Views sought on how Law of Apologies should apply in cases of child sexual abuse
  • Improvements could support victims and spare them lengthy court disputes

The law could be updated to make it easier for organisations to offer sincere apologies to those who have been wronged following the launch of a government consultation today (8 April 2024).

The Compensation Act, which became law in 2006, made it easier for public institutions, private companies and their employees to apologise, without admitting liability in civil proceedings.

Yet almost 20 years on, there is little evidence this has encouraged businesses to use apologies more as form of reparation – leaving many victims without proper closure and a sense they are unable to move on with their lives.

Often, organisations and individuals remain reluctant to apologise because of concerns it may be interpreted by the aggrieved party, or insurers, as an admission of fault. Changing the law to make this clearer could remove barriers – perceived or real – to apologising, while broadening the scope of the law would allow people to express regret and offer more earnest apologies.

Ministers are also considering how best to refine current laws following a recommendation from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) that apologies could and should be offered by employers for the actions of current or former employees – known as vicarious liability. This would encourage the likes of schools, care facilities or hospitals to offer apologies for abuse carried out by an individual at these institutions.

Justice Minister, Lord Bellamy, said:

The place of apologies in the justice system is becoming increasingly important, and this Consultation will explore ways of strengthening this role, not least to enable victims to find closure and move on with their lives.

The IICSA heard that in many historic child sexual abuse cases, an apology by an institution was seen as equally – or more – important than compensation by victims.

As part of the IICSA investigations, they spoke to survivors from the privately-run Bryn Alyn home in Wrexham, where children were abused for decades up to the 1990s, as well as Forde Park school in Devon.

Comments from those surveyed included:

  • Witness A23: “an apology…would have been priceless to me, and worth more than any amount of money”
  • Witness A24: “I now realise that an apology or acceptance for what I had been through is worth more than any amount of compensation.”
  • Witness A6: “I was not at all satisfied with the civil process or the outcome of the case. There was a payment of damages; however, there was no apology and my abusers were not held to account.”

The consultation follows a Private Members’ Bill introduced by John Howell MP to allow an apology to be given that is genuinely and sincerely meant without creating a legal liability. This bill did not complete its passage through Parliament before the end of the 2019-21 session, but the Lord Chancellor confirmed the Government would consult on the issue when Parliamentary time allowed.

John Howell MP said:

I am delighted that this has come forward. It should be the mark of both a mature democratic society, and, of its dispute resolution system, that an apology, whether made publicly or privately, can and should be allowed to be meaningful, and, helpful rather than simply a necessary yet tokenistic gesture.

It is hoped more apologies at an early stage will resolve disputes much more quickly.

The independent inquiry also found that in the clinical negligence sphere especially, sincere, unreserved, and meaningful apologies can avoid litigation altogether – sparing victims the further protracted trauma of a lengthy court battle.

The consultation proposals do not force those defending a claim to offer an apology. It also reserves the rights of either party to pursue further legal action even when an apology has or has not been offered. 

Further information

Published 8 April 2024