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What Are The Responsibilities of Volunteer Marshals? - Mike Kemp, Thorntons

20/09/17. News that the British Cycling Federation, an official and a marshal face criminal proceedings for the death of a spectator in the a Mountain Biking event in North Wales has raised the issue of the duties and responsibilities of volunteer marshals in such events.

On 31 August 2014, Judith Garrett attended a mountain biking race to watch her partner compete. Sadly, a cyclist in the race lost control and crashed into her, causing a head injury which ultimately proved fatal. The prosecutors contend that the British Cycling Federation and the race official in charge failed to conduct its design of the course, including spectator areas, in such a way as to ensure the health and safety of people attending. One of the marshals is also alleged to have failed to ensure that he carried out his health and safety duties properly. Questions have also been raised by commenters on social media over the duties on spectators to keep themselves safe.

At any sort of public event, the health and safety of the participants and spectators is paramount. I would say that this is more important for the spectators as they are less likely to consider the risks themselves. If there is an easily accessible vantage point to watch the event they will probably assume it is safe unless otherwise directed. The responsibility to arrange the spectating areas in a safe manner lies with the race organisers. The responsibility to enforce the arrangements lie with the marshals, who are often volunteers. The race organisers give directions and the marshals must ensure the directions are followed.

The concern for the marshal in this case is that in addition to the criminal charges he has a civil liability to ensure the health and safety of the people present and if there is no insurance in place then any assets he has could be at risk. Most volunteer marshals take part with the best of intentions, often because they enjoy participating in or watching similar events themselves and they understand the enjoyment people get out of them. The worry must be that this case results in volunteer marshals becoming reluctant to take part. Without sufficient numbers of volunteer marshals it would not be economic for many events to go ahead. It underlines the need for proper insurance to be in place for such events. Hopefully, some sensible precautions can be put in place that would ensure insurance is in place for all marshals who have volunteered and these and similar events can continue to be enjoyed by participants and spectators alike.

Mike Kemp is an Associate in Thorntons’ specialist Personal Injury team

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