Today’s Keogh report into avoidable deaths and mis management on a huge scale in the health system was awful. The partisan debate in the House was particularly unedifying even by the low standards of Westminster. But there’s something weirdly British about the situation. The public seem almost helpless in the face of institutional and political failure. The way the British system works citizens (more correctly ‘subjects’) lack support from the third leg of the stool in an advanced democracy – the courts, independent of the party system.
We don’t seem to have rights in law to enforce against government that let us down. In this particular case bureaucratic failure led to deaths – the most extreme form of institutional failure. There is notionally the corporate manslaughter and corporate homicide act 2007 that cuts through the old concept of crown immunity, allowing NHS bodies to be prosecuted. But for arcane legal reasons the act itself doesn’t work – lawyers still struggle with identifying who was responsible within a large organisation – they have only made one case stick so far against a small business.
An effective CMCHA could be a powerful weapon cutting across a lot of the crap talked about accountability. The CMCHA is usually seen alongside the much lampooned Health and Safety legislation – and that too could be beefed up. The reams of management legislation around public services could also give a limited number of rights in law to the citizen/subject/customer to enforce in the courts against the state. Most recently, the weakening of judicial review, itself never quite the fierce beast it was talked up to be goes in the opposite direction.
A group of us in London's Kings Cross have sought action against TfL for failing to act in a timely or effective fashion when in receipt of warnings about a dangerous junction, at which a person later died. We have gone down the corporate manslaughter route, but people keep telling us that we are wasting our time.
There’s a challenge here for all parties as they think about their 2015 manifestos – are they serious about standing up for citizens? Then give people the rights one should expect in an advanced democracy and allow them to seek redress through the courts when public bodies or corporations kill people.