Last week Lord Dyson, former Supreme Court justice and now Master of the Rolls, gave an address as this year’s President of the Holdsworth Club, a student law society at the University of Birmingham. He examined the popular view of “compensation culture”, a phrase apparently coined in 1993 when it appeared in the Times article Addicted to welfare, and now ubiquitous. Dyson set out to examine whether there really is a problem with civil justice in this country or whether it is merely perceived that large amounts of money are continually paid out for seemingly trivial injuries.
Compensation culture was defined by Lord Falconer as “…a catch-all expression… it’s the idea that for every accident someone is at fault. For every injury, someone to blame. And, perhaps most damaging, for every accident, there is someone to pay”. Lord Dyson criticised the scornful meaning the term carries, stating that the desire to sue somebody who caused you a loss arising from their blameworthy conduct is not unreasonable – it is the basis for the law of tort. The central idea to the compensation “culture” is that more and more people are claiming, something Dyson argued is a misconception.
Dyson did accept that conditional fee arrangements and the pressure to settle have encouraged the rise of claims companies and lawyers that pursue unmeritorious claims . He addressed criticism that his judgment in Woodroffe-Hedley v Cuthbertson (1997) had contributed to the rise of compensation culture, and, after analysing the truth behind various news stories on personal injury claims, concluded that he found the media’s fascination with reporting in this area a mystery. The full transcript of his speech is available here.