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Automatic liability for work accidents to go as part of regulatory shake-up

Changes to the 'strict liability' regime that makes companies automatically liable for some workplace injuries regardless of fault have been confirmed by the Government.17 Oct 2012

The measure, announced by Prime Minister David Cameron in January, will be included as a new amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill which is currently before Parliament.

Business Minister Jo Swinson said that the Act would also include other proposals to "free up business", many of which have previously been trailed by the Government. These include removing employer liability for third-party harassment, reforms to the planning consents regime for listed buildings and allowing individuals to enter into bankruptcy without having to go to court.

"Clearing away barriers to help businesses grow and invest is an essential part of the Government's plan for growth," Swinson said. "The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will help strengthen the business environment and boost confidence, by sweeping away needless bureaucracy and out of date rules."

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill proposes a range of measures that will help the Government's growth agenda. Its main functions include the overhaul of the employment tribunal system, a more efficient competition law regime and reducing the burden of regulation on businesses. The new amendments will form part of section 5 of the Bill, dealing with the reduction of legislative burdens, and are published ahead of the Bill's third reading in the House of Commons next week.

Removing strict liability for civil damages under some existing health and safety regulations was one of a number of recommendations made by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt of King's College London in an independent report on health and safety laws last year. The Health and Safety at Work Act currently imposes civil liability for breaches of statutory duty in relation to health and safety regulations regardless of whether a business did anything to cause the breach or acted negligently.

The Government previously said that it would repeal rules making companies liable for harassment of their employees by third parties as part of its drive to remove employment law related "red tape". Employers are already legally required to take "reasonable care" of the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees at work as a result of case law and health and safety regulation. Making the announcement in May, it said that this responsibility provided "adequate protection" for those employees whose employers had been made aware of inappropriate action by third parties.

The proposed change to the bankruptcy regime follows a consultation last year which looked at proposals to remove both debtor and creditor petitions for bankruptcy, and most company winding-up petitions, from the courts. The Government will not make changes to the creditor bankruptcy or company petition processes due to lack of support.

If approved, the amendment will allow individuals wishing to apply for their own bankruptcy to do so directly to a new Adjudicator rather than through the court. The new process will be cheaper to administer than the current system but will still make it clear that bankruptcy is "not a decision to be taken lightly", the Government said. It is also intended to free up court resources, allowing judicial time to be focussed on resolving disputes, it said.

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