Lawyers begin a High Court challenge today to the government’s decision to make mesothelioma sufferers pay legal and insurance costs from their damages.
The government has decided to lift the exemption that had preserved claimants’ rights to recover after-the-event premiums and success fees from the losing defendant. The abolition of recoverability for other injury claims was confirmed with the enforcement of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act in April 2013.
The exemption was put in place after the House of Lords insisted during the passage of the act that the government carry out a review of its effect on mesothelioma claims.
Lawyers acting for sufferers argue no such review has taken place and challenge justice secretary Chris Grayling’s decision in the High Court today. The challenge is being brought by the Asbestos Victims’ Support Groups Forum (UK), led by national firm Leigh Day.
Richard Stein, from the human rights department at Leigh Day, said the intention of the amendment imposed by the Lords was to require information about the likely effect of LASPO changes.
Lawyers will argue in court insufficient time was set aside from April 2013 to the decision to remove the exemption announced last December.
Stein said: ‘Evidence of the substantial reductions which the LASPO reforms will make on damages recovered by mesothelioma sufferers is starting to emerge.
‘We are asking the court to tell the government that they need to wait until these impacts of the LASPO changes are clear before they act.’
The government argues that the required review was carried out as part of the consultation ‘Reforming Mesothelioma Claims’, which took place between July and October 2013.
Tony Whitston, the forum chair, said sufferers and their families will accept a decision if it is based on a ‘fair and credible’ review.
‘The government’s decision to proceed on the basis of such a flawed review will not be accepted by sufferers or their families and will result in an enduring sense of grievance for years to come.’
Justice minister Shailesh Vara has said there is no reason why mesothelioma cases should be treated differently from other serious or catastrophic personal injury cases.
Vara told a Commons debate in January that last year’s consultation on mesothelioma had produced ‘little explanation’ of how LASPO would have a different or disproportionate effect on claimants’ access to justice.