The government has agreed to waive new court fees for cases involving asbestos-related disease in what has been hailed as a landmark decision for claimants.
The Ministry of Justice imposed a 5% levy on all claims over £10,000 on 9 March, but this week conceded it should not apply to mesothelioma claims.
The decision follows an application for judicial review lodged by national firm Leigh Day on behalf of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK, arguing the fees were unlawful. The case was due for a two-day hearing later this month but the government wrote to the firm this week saying it had agreed to cancel the fees.
In the letter, Andrew King for the Treasury Solicitor, added: ‘It is a matter of regret that the points that you raised in these judicial review proceedings were not raised during the consultation process.’
He said that a statutory instrument will now be laid before parliament to change the rules. The government also offered to pay Leigh Day’s £35,000 legal costs.
Under the levy scheme, claimants can be charged up to £10,000 in fees up-front in claims valued up to £200,000. Most damages claims for mesothlioma would be valued at close to that maximum. Challengers argued that mesothelioma sufferers are generally of modest means and unwilling, given their short life expectancy, to pay out large sums to cover court fees.
But sufferers were unlikely to qualify for fee remissions as they would already have recovered £15,000 as a lump sum under the Workers’ Compensation Act, notionally making them rich enough to afford to pay fees.
Harminder Bains (pictured), partner at Leigh Day, said: ‘Initially the government challenged the claimants' arguments, stating that it was not ‘unreasonable’ for mesothelioma victims to use the lump sum payment to pay for court fees. That statement 'suggests an astonishingly uncaring attitude to the predicament of mesothelioma sufferers', he said.
‘By taking this legal action against the government our clients have successfully ensured that mesothelioma sufferers will continue to have access to justice via the courts.’
Lord Chancellor Michael Gove has agreed to exclude from the definition of ‘disposable capital’ compensation awards made to mesothelioma sufferers under the Pneumoconiosis Workers Compensation Act, the 2008 Scheme and the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme.
The fees were announced in January and implemented within seven weeks, despite opposition from senior judiciary, representative bodies and opposition MPs. The MoJ says the fees will raise an extra £120m a year to help fund the running of the court system.