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Clinical Negligence Solicitor James Bell on lack of trust

By Principal Lawyer, Clinical Negligence

Atomisation of our society and lack of trust continues to grow. Fuelled by factory production methods and attitude in most sectors of industry, society and the professions. Recent research by YouGov suggests that there is an ongoing process of social fragmentation and a continuing fall in 'deference' towards authority across the UK.

The decline in trust is due in part, I would suggest, to a 'consumer' approach to law, medicine, the police and the media.BBC news journalists were trusted a great deal or a fair amount by 81 per cent of the public in 2003; this is down to 44 per cent today.

Senior police officers are down from 72 per cent to 49 per cent.

Trust in family doctors has also fallen significantly.

Even estate agents, who most people would assume could not go any lower, are down from 16 per cent to 10 per cent. Even my daughter cannot be sure if Justin and Selena are really splitting up or whether it is a publicity stunt.

Excessive trust and deference is never a good thing. Doctors and lawyers become complacent if they are always trusted, all of the time. People sign legal agreements or medical consent forms not because they have read them and agree with them but because they 'trust' the doctor or lawyer who has passed it to them with a friendly smile saying ' would you sign this please'. An ultra-deferential society which doesn’t question the powers that be is not a good thing.

Right now we are witnessing a lot of issues which have been covered up for years coming out into the open.

I have had calls this week from families whose loved ones died on the Liverpool Care Pathway many years ago. They were lied to at their loved one's bedsides, further untruths were said at inquests or in complaints responses. Many families tell me they were not told that their loved one was being put on the LCP.

My colleague, Nisha Sharma, has dealt with many calls from women who are devastated that they trusted breast surgeon, Ian Paterson, and are now pursuing Cleavage Sparing Mastectomy Surgery Claims.

My colleague Trevor Sterling is dealing with harrowing tales of Child Abuse Claims against Jimmy Savile which were never listened to 20, 30 or 40 years ago.

What is the answer to this malaise? What can be done to make professionals adhere to basic rules of decency? What checks have to be built into the system? Are public or judge led inquiries an effective way of ensuring compliance with basic standards? Should we financially reward whistleblowers - to ensure that they come forward at an early stage. In the case of Savile or Paterson whistleblowers clearly failed to come forward and this led to countless further victims to suffer.

Unfortunately, I think good behaviour has to be incentivised. Huge rewards have to be offered to whistleblowers to make it worth their while to effectively end their career by coming forward to tell the truth. Equally, huge penalties and confiscation orders have to be in place to deter wrongdoers. I am not sure if the various inquiries will be able to consider this option.

In the USA whistleblowers can be hugely rewarded. They are paid for results - usually a 2% fee for information which leads to fines. Brad Birkenfeld was American banker and whistleblower whose disclosures to the IRS lead to a massive fraud investigation. In 2007, he gave information to the United States Department of Justice that resulted in $780 million in fines levied against UBS. In 2008 Birkenfeld pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and was sentenced in 2009 to 40 months in prison. Many advocacy groups from around the world criticized Birkenfeld’s prosecution and sentence. Birkenfeld was scheduled to be released from prison on November 29, 2012. However, according to a Reuters report in September 2012, he was released in August 2012. Reuters also reported that Birkenfeld had been awarded $104 million by the IRS as a whistleblower.

Maybe this is what we need to kickstart a culture of transparency in the UK?

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