The Apologies Bill: Sorry seems to be the hardest word

An MP has proposed that organisations should feel able to openly apologise when things go wrong without the fear that the apology amounts to an admission of liability. 

The Apologies Bill was introduced to Parliament on 1 December 2020 and the Bill's second reading will take place on 12 March 2021.  

Purpose of the Bill

The argument goes that, currently, organisations are discouraged from apologising for fear of inadvertently admitting liability and prompting a court claim or causing difficulty with an insurance policy. 

The thinking behind that Bill is that, if an organisation can freely give an apology, the giving of that apology can take the temperature down in a dispute between parties and, hopefully, avoid the need for further action (such as a formal claim) to be made/ defended.  It is said that the hope for the Bill is that it will encourage an "era of civility".  

The Bill is not intended to alter a party's right to some other form of remedy.

Will this become law?

Possibly but it's unlikely.  The Bill is a type of Private Members Bill and only a minority of those make it through to creating new law.

But the Bill can act as a barometer of support for such a measure and, whilst not becoming law itself, it can create publicity around an issue or can potentially influence policy in the future.

Interestingly though, similar legislation does already exist in parts of the USA, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and Scotland.

How useful though is an apology as a strategy?

You don't need the Bill to allow you to apologise though and an apology can be a useful tool for resolving disputes.

Experience tells us that aggrieved parties (particularly consumers/ individuals) often want an acknowledgment that something hasn't gone quite right and, if a retailer is able to apologise, that can go a long way towards creating goodwill and smoothing the pathway towards finding an acceptable resolution.  We frequently see a request for an apology as part of a broader requested resolution to an issue. 

Sometimes, an apology can be good for the brand and improve a consumer's perception of the service they have received (as the retailer gets right to the heart of the issue and sorts it out before it gets worse). 

In larger disputes though, where the parties might be dealing with an issue that they are or can be relatively dispassionate about (e.g. between two or more organisations), then the giving of an apology might either be of little use (particularly where larger sums are involved as that's likely to be the key difference between the parties) or giving an apology will still be viewed with suspicion (regardless of whether an apology is protected from being construed as an admission of liability or not).

We may not see this Bill enacted into law but an apology is certainly a tactic to be kept in mind for the right dispute. 

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