The High Court has allowed what it called the ‘indulgence’ of allowing an extra 20 industrial disease cases into a group litigation order - two months after the already-extended deadline for registration had passed.

The defendant in Hutson & Anor, The Personal Representatives of v Tata Steel UK Ltd argued it would cause real prejudice if the court allowed such indulgence, even if, as the claimants pointed out, the number of claims was a small addition to the 222 cases already registered. 

The Honourable Mr Justice Turner said the additional cases would not affect the timetable for progress of the group litigation order, there would be no savings from refusing to extend the deadline, and claimants would very likely lose their prospects of achieving substantive justice. 

‘I recognise that the requirement to enforce compliance with orders of the court is a relevant factor but not one which, in my view, is sufficient to offset the countervailing considerations,’ added the judge. 

The group litigation order was formed to handle claims from former steel workers and their families who allege they were injured by inhaling harmful dust and fumes at work. 

It was a condition of registration that those seeking to bring claims for deceased employees should first have obtained grants of probate or letters of administration. 

The cut-off date for registration was originally set for 21 September 2018 and then extended by consent to 16 November, with liberty to apply for a further extention. By the time the extended deadline had passed, a number of claims had not been entered on the register as probate formalities had not been satisfied.   

Tata Steel said it had been prevented from placing accurate reserves against the potential values of the unregistered claims, had not been able to judge the extent of the disclosure exercise, and could not consider whether any of the late cases ought to be selected as lead cases.  

The claimants said the extra claims would need not significantly increase disclosure obligations. They further pointed out the consequences of exclusion would be very serious for individual claimaints. Any attempt to proceed outside the scope of the group order would be unlikely to get off the ground – a point conceded by the defendant.