Victims of the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma have won a judicial review against the Government’s decision to use part of their damages to pay for their legal costs.
A High Court judge has today handed down his ruling which declares the Government’s proposals to charge victims of mesothelioma up to 25% of their damages to pay for their costs unlawful. The costs are currently paid by the insurers for the defendant companies found to be responsible for the exposure to asbestos decades ago which has caused their illness.
The Government introduced reforms under the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) on 1 April last year requiring personal injury victims to use part of their damages to meet the costs of their claims but there was an exemption for mesothelioma victims.
Section 48 of the LASPO Act called for this exemption to remain in place until a review of the impact of the Act had been carried out. However Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced last December that the exemption was to be removed arguing that the Government had reviewed the impact as part of a separate consultation on mesothelioma claims.
The Asbestos Victims’ Support Groups Forum UK challenged this decision on the basis that it wasn’t a properly informed and effective review and the judge has today ruled that the consultation was unlawful. He said legal charges could not be imposed under LASPO “until a section 48 review has been carried out.”
The Government’s decision to remove the exemption was also criticised by a Justice Committee Inquiry report published in August this year.
Adrian Budgen, head of asbestos-related disease litigation at Irwin Mitchell which represents victims of mesothelioma across the country, said: “Every person diagnosed with mesothelioma has already paid the ultimate price, most often as a result of the negligence of their employer. So, to see them potentially face losing a significant part of the vital funds they and their family receive to cover care and support costs is just unthinkable and many victims would be put off making a claim thus denying them access to justice.
“We believe, and the High Court has now agreed, that if the Government wants to introduce a system which operates in the best interests of victims of mesothelioma, they need to ensure that they review the impact of the recent reforms and ask for and listen to the views of victims in future.
“We are pleased to see that the Judge has recognised that further review is needed before any changes are made to mesothelioma claims. It is now important that any review only takes place after sufficient time has elapsed for the LASPO changes in non-mesothelioma cases to be properly assessed.”
Tony Whitston, who is chairman of the Asbestos Victims’ Support Groups Forum UK, said this ruling should be seen as an opportunity to take a new approach based on justice for victims.