By: 13 November 2013

The law surrounding psychiatric injuries needs updating to become more flexible and fair, says the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL).


The association has asked the Law Commission to examine the law on psychiatric injury for witnesses, or secondary victims, as they are commonly referred to.


Matthew Stockwell, APIL's president, said that the physiological impact for witnesses of distressing events could wreak permanent havoc on their lives.


“The law is currently very rigid and denies some victims the ability to bring a case for compensation to help put their lives back on track,” said Stockwell.


“Psychiatric injury doesn’t follow any rules on who will suffer or how, it just doesn’t work that way. The law surrounding it should be more flexible to reflect that”.


In addition he said, only spouses, fiancés, parents, and children of victims are presumed to have close enough ties to be distressed by an incident. He called for siblings and unmarried partners to be included in the original group of secondary victims.


APIL has also called for a change in the law that says that those claiming for psychiatric injuries have to have been present at a scene.


The law on psychiatric injury was set out following the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, which ruled that the victims’ family members who witnessed the tragedy on television or from another area of the stadium could not pursue compensation.


“In the 20-plus years since the law on psychiatric injuries of secondary witnesses was established, technology and the way we interact with each other has experienced a revolution. The law has remained far too strict,” said Stockwell.


“We can talk to our families on the other side of the world as if they are in the same room, through tools such as Skype and Facetime. Witnessing a tragedy happen to a loved one through a webcam or while on a video call, for example, is very possible.


“Psychiatric injuries can be just as serious as the physical ones and this must be remembered in a proper review and overhaul of the system, to help victims get the help they need.”