The former Lord Chief Justice does a merry dance around the Saatchi Bill

“I have been criticised in letters I have received in a way in which I perhaps am not accustomed, for my involvement in the Bill sponsored by the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi.”

Those are the words of Lord Woolf during the House of Lords report stage of the controversial Medical Innovation Bill last week, and shortly after the publication of a story by SJ, revealing that the former Lord Chief Justice had been unable remember the specific cases he had been involved in that would have benefitted from the divisive ‘Saatchi Bill’.

“Those who have asked me to identify cases by name and reference so that they can analyse the cases and show how they do not help any particular argument might be relieved to hear me say that if they want to know where I come from, I wrote a little book called The Pursuit of Justice,” Lord Woolf continued.

The peer said that, at the time of writing, he had wanted to focus on the medical profession because he found its conservatism was interfering with the pursuit of justice and that, as far as victims were concerned, one of the most difficult areas of litigation involved clinical negligence cases.

He went on to add: “Both sides in those cases were put into great difficulty because of that conservatism. On one side were the patients who often wanted the doctors to say sorry. On the other side were the doctors who felt that they could not say sorry because if they did they would be admitting liability for negligence. So the two never met – and that, I am afraid, can happen.”

While I am sure The Pursuit of Justice is an excellent read, and top of many lawyer’s wish lists this Yuletide, (shame on you if it is not already in your law library) the attempts by the former Master of the Rolls to dodge Dr Anthony Barton’s fairly simple request for disclosure will not sit well with many medical negligence practitioners. The peer’s evasion was certainly noticed by users of social media who remained far from impressed with his argument.

Lord Woolf certainly writes extensively on the law and the medical profession in his ‘little book’. Part 6 is aptly named ‘Medical Law’ and contains a speech delivered at the Royal Society of Medicine in 1990 – snappily entitled ‘Medicine and the courts Meeting of the Medico-Legal Society’ – while another was delivered at University College London in 2001. It is the latter, which asked ‘Are the courts excessively deferential to the medical profession?’ that appears to be the speech Lord Woolf refers to in the House of Lords last week. While, part 7 ‘Access to Justice’ sees the former Master of the Rolls urge for medical negligence case reform.

Would it have taken up much of the former Lord Chief Justice’s valuable time to simply grab a copy off the bookshelf and fire off the citations relied on in those two chapters? His seeming reluctance to do so is especially puzzling when you consider that he did take the time to mention his detractors in his comment in the Lords. What better way to shut up your critics than to give them what they want, especially when doing so proves your case?

Perhaps, like any good writer, he just didn’t want to spoil the ending for all of us. Or would doing so actually damage his argument and the ‘Saatchi PR machine’? Yet Lord Woolf is not the only supporter of the Bill who seems unwilling to answer Dr Barton’s query.

Dominic Nutt, the director of communications for the Saatchi camp, emailed SJ following the publication of our story to rail against the comments made by consultant solicitor David Dawson of Price Slater Gawne. Nutt claimed Dawson was “so wide of the mark with wild conjecture and scare mongering” yet he, like Lord Woolf, did not answer the primary question posed in the piece: what instances of medical negligence would have benefitted from the protection granted by the Medical Innovation Bill?

In fairness to Nutt, it is not his place to answer for Lord Woolf, and an exclusive comment from him and the Saatchi team will appear in the first January issue of SJ. But considering the level of research supposedly carried out by the Saatchi camp in preparation of this Bill, one might expect them to have uncovered some evidence of a cure for cancer being halted by pesky lawyers. The camp’s silence is deafening.

So intrigued am I at the potentially enlightening contents of The Pursuit of Justice, I have duly added it to my Christmas List. Hopefully, if I am a good boy and manage to avoid angering any peers, Santa Claus will deposit Lord Woolf’s tome in my stocking on 25 December. For those of you who have already rushed out to buy a copy; please no spoilers! I’m sure Lord Woolf wouldn’t appreciate it.

This blog was first published in the Solicitors Journal on 17 December 2014 and is reproduced with kind permission.

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