The coalition government’s plans, led by the Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, to allow for legal fees to be deducted from awards in cases involving Mesothelioma compensation, were dealt a huge blow by the High Court yesterday.
Asbestos Justice welcomed the action brought by the Asbestos Victims’ Support Groups Forum UK which sought to challenge Mr Grayling’s attempts to bring Mesothelioma claims in line with other compensation claims.
Asbestos Support Groups Challenge Legal Costs
In April of 2013, there was a change in the legal system relating to legal costs in personal injury cases. Specifically, the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) resulted in a shift from the losing party being responsible for legal costs incurred by the winner, to the person making the claim themselves.
However, those pursuing a claim for Mesothelioma compensation were exempt from the affect of the new rules which permitted up to 25% of a claimant’s damages to be payable towards legal fees including success fees and after the event insurance.Mr Grayling made a decision to apply the affects of LASPO to a Mesothelioma claim.
It was this decision and events that led up to this which were challenged by the Asbestos Support Groups who regularly assist Mesothelioma sufferers in applying for relevant benefits, directing sufferers to specialist solicitors and providing general support and assistance.
Questions Linger over Improper Review
In yesterday’s judgement, The Honourable Mr Justice Williams said that the issue was whether Mr Grayling had conducted a “proper review” of the likely effect of reforms on Mesothelioma sufferers and their families. “I conclude that he did not” stated Mr Williams and he went on to recommend that it was the job of the Justice Secretary to carry out a proper review of the likely effects of the LASPO reforms in whatever manner he concludes will permit him reasonably to achieve the required purpose. The decision also confirmed that allowing for reductions on Mesothelioma compensation awards would be “unlawful”.
Mr Williams referred to an amendment to LASPO which placed the government under an obligation to carry out and publish a full review of the effect of applying the new provisions to Mesothelioma claims pursued by the sufferers and their families.
The Asbestos Support Groups argued strongly that no such formal review had been undertaken before the Justice department decided in December of 2013 to lift the exemption relating to Mesothelioma claimants.
In contrast the government argued in court that the necessary review as completed as part of the consultation, “Reforming Mesothelioma Claims” which took place between July and October of 2013. It was no surprise to see the Association of British Insurers intervening into the court action in support of the government’s stance.
Solicitors for the Asbestos Victims’ Support Groups highlighted major deficiencies with the conduct of the government. Richard Stein from Leigh Day & Co stated: – “This government is seemingly intent on doing what it is told by the insurance industry against the best interests of those suffering from the negligent behaviour of the insured. Today’s judgement should send a clear message to the government that it has to conform to the laws of the land and cannot ride roughshod over the interests of Mesothelioma sufferers and their families for the benefit of the insurance industry.”
Discovery of Alarming Government Documents
Asbestos Justice was alarmed to note the concern expressed by MP’s relating to the discovery of a government document called, “Mesothelioma Heads of Agreement” between the administration and the ABI, seemingly suggesting that decisions on Mesothelioma compensation had been made between the two without proper consultation with all interested parties taking place.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) provided reaction to the decision and stated:
“Mesothelioma is an awful condition which can destroy lives in a frighteningly short amount of time and we want to help sufferers and their families. We are committed to finding the best way to get claims settled fairly and quickly. It remains our view that the MOG’s review of this issue was conducted fully and openly and we are disappointed with this judgement. We will now consider our next steps.”
Shame Hangs Over Ministry of Justice
Shadow Justice Minister, Andy Slaughter described the actions of the government as a “new low” for the MOJ, highlighting what he believed amounted to a “squalid deal” between Mr Grayling and his friends in the insurance industry.
James Dalton, head of the liability department at the Association for British Insurers said that he was “frustrated” by a development “which delays long overdue reform of the legal system for Mesothelioma sufferers”. He added his belief that costs of Mesothelioma claims in England and Wales remain disproportionately high and claimant lawyers need to answer why they do not support lowering these costs and getting more compensation to Mesothelioma sufferers.
Asbestos Justice questions how a decision to allow funds to be deducted from awards made to Mesothelioma sufferers and their families, who are experiencing the most traumatic time in their lives, can ever be seen as fair and just.
We also question Mr Dalton’s viewpoint on the level of fees incurred in Mesothelioma claims. In such cases, it is common for cases to be included within a matter of a few months as usually, liability is not taken as an issue, medical evidence supports the claim and Defendant insurers attempt to deal with the cases as a priority. Our specialist team of solicitors at Asbestos Justice are focused on recovering high sums of Mesothelioma compensation within the shortest time frame possible and have regularly settled cases within 2 months of receiving details of claims.
Mesothelioma claims often have a high value and therefore costs incurred in such cases are in the vast majority of cases entirely proportionate.
Watch This Space
Asbestos Justice welcomes the decision of the High Court but does fear that this will not be the last we hear of the government’s plans to limit Mesothelioma compensation. We will be looking out for the ABI and Mr Grayling’s next move with interest.