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An Act of Heroism?

A new UK Act has received Royal assent, just at the end of this Parliament’s term. Possibly not the shortest Act ever written (though it is brief), it has been described using its acronym SARAH: the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Act 2015.

It has no effect yet as the Secretary of State has to make Regulations for that to happen. With the General Election looming it will be some time before the next administration makes the necessary arrangements.

So at the moment SARAH stands on the books as an Act of five short Sections waiting to be enacted.

The Act applies when a court, in considering a claim that a person was negligent or in breach of statutory duty, is determining the steps that the person was required to take to meet a standard of care.

Of most interest are Sections 2–4, which respectively cover Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism – the focus of each being the consideration the courts should give to a personal act falling under one or any of these three principles. The additional ‘social action’ test is that the person must have been “acting for the benefit of society or any of its members”.


For ‘responsibility’ they must have taken a predominantly responsible approach to protecting the safety or other interests of others; and for ‘heroism’ the courts will consider whether the alleged negligence or breach occurred when the person was acting heroically by intervening in an emergency to assist an individual in danger.

Though undoubtedly powerful and even emotive, much is still left open. Is the impact likely to be biggest in negligence cases or in statutory breaches where these tests could also be applied? Or, as is often the case with some law, is its biggest impact in the observance of the principles before it ever gets to be heard by a judge? For risk professionals the underlying messages are probably clear. Or are they?

Acts of selfless heroism, typically in the heat of the moment, cannot be predicted or even trained for (unless you are firefighter, for example). The aspect most familiar to risk professionals must be the moral dimension about social responsibility and care for others in our personal belief systems and the business cultures we encourage.

Greg Brown Deputy Chief Executive, IIRSM

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