Legal bid to protect horse owners from strict liability

  • A third — and possible final — attempt to lessen the insurance burden on horse owners went before Parliament yesterday (Wednesday, 5 December).

    A Private Member’s Bill was introduced by Stephen Crabb, Conservative MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire who is calling for an amendment to the Animals Act 1971 to protect responsible animal owners from unfair compensation claims.

    Mr Crabb introduced a Ten-Minute Rule Bill on the subject in June. But despite widespread support, it fell in the House of Commons on 19 October due to lack of Parliamentary time.

    “We knew there was little chance for the Ten-Minute Rule Bill, but this will definitely get a second reading and go to committee,” said Mr Crabb, who has discussed the Bill with Defra officials and minister for the horse industry Jonathan Shaw in the past two weeks.

    “Defra has said it will assist in drafting the Bill. Given the support it has from the government and across all parties, it does stand a very good chance of becoming law.

    “It will take a year and will be a long, drawn-out process, but I think this is the last chance we’ve got of amending the Act.”

    The Animals Act 1971 has become a focal point for those battling high public liability insurance premiums after the landmark Mirvahedy v Henley court case in 2003 widened the scope of the Act.

    Since then, owners have been found liable for their animals’ actions, even if they had not been negligent in any way.

    H&H has covered seven high-profile compensation claims this year, the majority of which have reached London’s High Court and involved five- and six-figure sums.

    Minister Jonathan Shaw told H&H: “I understand the horse industry’s desire to clarify the Animals Act, to ensure that horse owners who take every reasonable precaution to prevent accidents involving their animals happening should not have to bear full liability when such accidents occur.

    “The government is willing to give its support to a workable Private Member’s Bill, which will achieve this aim and which commands the full support of the rest of the industry.”

    The Bill will receive its second reading on Friday, 14 March, and between now and then Mr Crabb aims to build a wide coalition of groups and individuals to support it.

    Read this news story in full in today’s Horse & Hound (6 December, ’07)

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