Ruling in the High Court on cancer catches out government

Campaigners for mesothelioma have achieved a breakthrough victory this month after winning their case at the High Court; this concerned challenging the government’s scheme in which sufferers must pay an average 20% of compensation settlements in legal and insurance fees.

The Asbestos Victims’ Support Groups Forum UK took the case to court after Justice Secretary Chris Grayling had failed to ensure that the victims of asbestos-related cancer would not have to pay legal fees or insurance costs out of any of the compensation awarded.

This case and the High Court’s decision highlighted the one-sided approach that was taken by the Ministry of Justice to the legislation. Several critics of the government have argued that the reforms to mesothelioma compensation introduced in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, more widely known as LASPO, were driven through without proper consideration or consultation.

Victim groups and other parties with a legitimate interest in this matter were not properly consulted, and this was further highlighted in the High Court’s judgement.

For years asbestos was widely used across the UK as a building material. Tradesmen in particular were exposed to the dangerous mineral within their working environment. However, use of the substance is now severely limited and regulated, but as many as 20 tradesmen die from asbestos damage to their lungs each week and in total, over 2,500 people are diagnosed with the disease each year.

In addition, the High Court’s judgment exposes the noticeable level of cooperation between the Ministry of Justice and insurers. The existence of “a secret understanding between the government and the insurance industry” is being openly discussed, and this is not for the first time.

In 2012, the Commons Justice Select Committee had criticised the government over a previous consultation, saying:

“We are concerned ... that its overall policy in relation to mesothelioma has been shaped in accordance with an ‘agreement’, however informal and elastic, which it had reached with employers’ liability insurers”

From the beginning MP’s were clear that mesothelioma presented an exception to LASPO, as such passing legal and other costs on to the victims was inappropriate in the case of this disease.

But still, the Ministry of Justice decided to ignore these views. The victims of mesothelioma and their families will now be grateful that in contrast to this the High Court has their best interests in mind.

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