‘Tis the season…to be sensitive to cultural and religious traditions | Bolt Burdon Kemp ‘Tis the season…to be sensitive to cultural and religious traditions | Bolt Burdon Kemp

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‘Tis the season…to be sensitive to cultural and religious traditions

The Acquired Brain Injury Forum for London (ABIL) held an event recently covering the topics of ‘Brain Injury, Faith and Cultural Differences’.  It was an informative series of talks covering how rehab specialists navigate faith and cultural differences in approaching rehabilitation and case management.

This made me wonder how we may be consciously or even sub-consciously dealing with these differences in our approach to clients and in particular personal injury litigation.  As Christmas approaches it is inevitable that a number of our clients will be taking part in the festivities, so I thought it would be a timely moment to summarise some of my thoughts and experiences having worked for a number of years with clients from a variety of backgrounds.

As a consequence of the type of work we do, our clients do not fit any particular mould.  They come from a variety of backgrounds, from different points in their lives and with differing beliefs and values.  The approach we take with clients depends on these factors and we work to accommodate their needs, bearing in mind the ultimate goal of ensuring they are provided with adequate compensation to allow them to live a fulfilling life.

The ABIL conference reminded me of some top tips which I have included below:

  1. Understand your client

    Everyone is different.  Speak to and listen to your client’s views on life. The commitment they may have to a particular religion or culture will influence the approach that needs to be taken.  Their commitment may differ to that of their family’s, the Litigation Friend’s and even the commitment they had prior to the accident.  There is a danger of categorising people in to set traditional religions and cultures when in fact their upbringing, experiences, education and socio-economic status may have influenced their views and beliefs.  No one will know the client better than themselves so we need to spend time understanding their views and beliefs.

  2. Be sensitive to traditions and practices

    Even if your client’s level of commitment is not shared by their family and friends it is still good practice to be alert to certain traditions.  For example, I once had a client of the Jewish faith who advised us to not send him any emails or texts on Sabbath, even if it were urgent correspondence.  Whereas his son and Litigation Friend, who was also of the Jewish faith, was happy to be contacted on Sabbath.  There are also other conventional traditions such as Ramadan for Muslims; where they fast from sunrise to sunset for one month a year.  They abstain from water and food during these times and so they may wish to avoid lengthy conferences, expert appointments etc. in that month.  Similarly Muslims are required to pray 5 times a day and so you may wish to avoid contacting them at certain points of the day.  It’s always best to check with clients what their preferences are.

Impact of the Muslim faith on personal injury cases?

Here are points to take in to account when conducting claims on behalf of clients who believe in the Muslim faith.

  • Fasting during Ramadan

There is an exemption to fasting if you are considered to be physically unwell and/or disabled. I f you fulfil this criteria, then you are required to pay a minimum sum to charity for each day that you are unable to fast.  If your client fits this criteria due to their injury (and wouldn’t have fit this criteria otherwise), then you should be including this sum, for the remainder of the client’s lifetime, within their claim. This must be based on your client’s express instructions to do so. He or she may not wish to pay the sum to charity – you must always check with your client and not make any assumptions.

  • Hajj

This is a compulsory pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia for all Muslims to perform at least once in their lifetime.  This is provided they are physically, mentally and financially able to do so.  If they are not, then they are not under a duty to make this pilgrimage.  However, elderly and disabled people may still wish to make this pilgrimage.  If your client wishes to still take part then they may require specific seats on planes, suitable accommodation, additional support workers and so on.  This should be factored in when considering future holiday costs.  For example, packages for Hajj in 2020 cost around £6,000 per person, which is a lot more than most people’s average holiday savings pot. However, you should speak to your client first before researching and including such costs and not make any assumptions.

  • Zakat

This is a compulsory payment Muslims are required to make to charities each year. It is a set amount of 2.5% of a person’s wealth, including money in savings and current accounts and assets. When a claim is settled, a client will normally send their settlement to a bank account or their deputy or trust account.  Personal injury lawyers need to consider Zakat carefully with their clients.  It may be that the client does not (rightly) consider the compensation as “wealth”, as it is specifically intended to pay for the costs of future care, treatment and equipment, arising from a client’s injury – compensation is not a windfall.  However there is an element of loss of earnings included in many claims, which could directly affect Zakat.  If a client wishes to include their settlement as part of their Zakat, their solicitor might have to consider whether to include this as a separate head of loss – whether insurers would agree to pay this extra sum is another question.  These are all careful issues which need to be considered when advising a client before settlement of their claim.

  • Prohibition on interest

Muslims are not allowed to receive or pay interest – but it is of course standard procedure for clients to claim for interest on special damages and general damages in a claim for serious injury.  Clients have to sign a statement of truth confirming they approve the losses claimed in their Schedule of Loss.  If your client provides instructions that they do not want to receive any interest, then lawyers must consider how best to draft schedules in order for a client to approve them, and consider exploring, for example, whether a claim could be made for a fixed sum rather than interest.  Again, you will need to check with the client first and gauge their views on the subject.

The above examples are very specific and there will of course be a number of different issues which we will come across as a result of the variety of clients that we are instructed by.  Whilst there are some traditions and practices which are common amongst mainstream religious beliefs, no two clients will ever be the same. I t is always best practice to gauge your clients’ beliefs and strengths of their convictions in order to fully assess their losses.

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