MPs today told the Ministry of Justice to think again before applying the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act to mesothelioma compensation claims after a damning report into the decision-making process.
A report from the House of Commons Justice Committee says the government’s review of asbestos-related claims was ‘not prepared in a thorough and even-handed manner’, and called for a fresh consultation.
The government intends to apply the conditions of the 2012 LASPO act by lifting an exemption in section 48 of the legislation. That clause suspended the extension of LASPO until the government had conducted a full review of its effects.
Following several evidence sessions earlier this year, the justice committee inquiry concluded the government’s approach was ‘unsatisfactory’ on several counts.
Alan Beith MP (pictured), the committee's chair, said the government had been ‘determined’ to review the extension as soon as it could and in its haste failed to ensure that relevant information, such as a cost-benefit analysis of the LASPO reforms, was available to interested parties.
Beith added that a section 48 review was ‘shoehorned’ into a wider consultation on the mesothelioma claims process conducted last autumn.
An MoJ spokesperson said: ‘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 considering the best way to get claims settled fairly and quickly. We will consider the report’s recommendations and respond in due course.’
There was also criticism of the ministry over a copy of a heads of agreement document, provided during the committee’s inquiry but drawn up between the government and the Association of British Insurers in 2012.
The government was ‘not open and transparent’ about the existence of this document, the report says.
Beith said: ‘The provisions of this document, which remained undisclosed to other interested parties, have shaped the government’s approach to this issue, and we are concerned that the government appears to have had no intention of supplying us with this document as part of our inquiry.’
As well as calling for a fresh consultation on section 48, the justice committee demanded urgent expedition of the primary legislation needed to bring into effect the Third Party (Rights Against Insurers) Act 2010, which will enable a claim to be issued against an insurer without a judgment first having to be obtained.
During exchanges before the committee, insurers and ministers said claimants were likely to receive a net financial benefit from their claims being subject to LASPO provisions. Opponents, some of who started legal proceedings against the lifting of section 48 this week, contested this assertion.
In a statement, the ABI's head of motor and liability James Dalton said he would ‘make no apologies’ for negotiating a scheme to compensate an extra 3,000 sufferers over the next 10 years.
Dalton added: ‘Significantly, this report raises the issue of high legal costs in mesothelioma claims, citing an average legal cost of £20,000 for every mesothelioma claim in England and Wales.
‘Excessive legal costs mean higher insurance premiums for all employers, and clearly claimant lawyers have got some difficult questions to answer about why they do not support lower legal costs.’
There were 2,291 deaths from mesothelioma in Britain in 2011, and the number of cases is expected to continue rising before peaking towards the end of this decade.