In October when the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre learned it would face charges over the canyoning tragedy last April in which six students and their teacher died, its chairman Rupert Wilson said it would defend them. Mercifully, it had a change of heart in the ensuing three months and this week admitted two charges laid under the Health and Safety in Employment Act: in essence, that it had failed to ensure the safety of its employee, and failed to ensure that she did not cause harm to others.
The centre's decision was prompted, it said, by a desire to avoid a delay in coronial proceedings and to spare the bereaved, many of whom are plainly still stunned by their loss, the ordeal of having to relive the horrific events in the Mangatepopo River.
A cynic might conclude that there is also tactical value in such an approach: the police have yet to decide whether or not to lay criminal charges and the possibility exists of later civil claim - though it would be legally complex; the decision to face the music at Labour Department level could be seen as a mitigating factor later on. But even if the motives are mixed, it is commendable that the centre decided to put its hand up. It makes a sobering contrast to the attempts by Britain's Ministry of Defence to avoid compensating servicemen poisoned by its nuclear tests at Maralinga in the 1950s.
That fact is that taking responsibility for one's actions has become deeply unfashionable. We have evolved into a species that prides itself on how much it can get away with. The new United States president referred in his inaugural address to the "greed and irresponsibility" that had brought the global economy to the edge of the abyss and called for "a new era of responsibility".
Such words come at an apt moment in the history of the planet. More than ever it is becoming apparent that in everything from global warming to world recession, we are all in this together. The decision in EU capitals that this is a time to erect trade barriers including tariff regimes to protect regional economies has been widely and rightly deplored but the danger is that more such acts of narrow self-interest will follow.
Closer to home, examples of readiness to duck for cover are depressingly plentiful: the builders of leaky homes who wound up companies or absconded to the Gold Coast when trouble started; the proprietors of ruinously imprudent investment regimes who played with the life savings of others, confident that - in the absence of demonstrable criminal negligence - they were safe from personal liability; even those who fail to leave their details when they carelessly dent another car while parking: all these and more betray fundamental ethical principles, which - whether it is described as "doing unto others" or in the secular phraseology of the fair go - are part of the framework that sustains civilised behaviour.
For all that, and notwithstanding the Outdoor Pursuits Centre's admissions, it remains worth wondering whether those who do not accept liability for their actions should have it sheeted home to them. The families of those who died in Mangatepopo have shown a forgiveness consistent with their strongly held Christian convictions, but as a society we should consider whether people whose negligence costs lives or inflicts horrific injury should not be personally answerable.
The accident compensation legislation removed the right to sue for personal injury, but there is a danger that it can give us permission to be careless of each other's welfare.