ASBESTOS campaigners won a landmark High Court victory yesterday against the government’s decision forcing victims to use their damages to pay for their legal costs.
The judgement, which follows a two-day hearing in July, is a “humiliating” defeat for Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.
On April 1 last year the government introduced reforms under the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), which included a requirement that members of the public bringing personal injury claims use part of their damages to meet the costs of their claims.
But due to concerns about the adverse effects this could have on mesothelioma sufferers, such cases were exempted by Parliament until a review had taken place. Mesothelioma is a cancer of the pleural lining of the lungs caused by exposure to asbestos. It resulted in more than 2,500 deaths in 2012.
The review was carried out in 2013 but in a damning report earlier this year the Commons justice committee described it as “maladroit and unsatisfactory” and called on the government to start again.
Mr Justice William Davis concluded yesterday that Mr Grayling “did not conduct a proper review of the likely effects of the LASPO reforms on mesothelioma claims.”
He said legal charges could not be imposed under LASPO “until a section 48 review has been carried out.”
Leigh Day solicitor Richard Stein who represented the asbestos sufferers said the judgement should send a clear message to the government that “it has to conform with the laws of the land and cannot ride roughshod over the interests of mesothelioma sufferers and their families to benefit the insurance industry.”
The committee also found that the government had struck a secret deal with insurers and that this was not “conducive to the creation of trust among victims’ representatives, claimant lawyers and others that an opposing viewpoint will be heard.”
Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK spokesman Doug Jewell told the Morning Star: “This truly is a landmark victory for mesothelioma sufferers. For too long the government has been striking secret deals with the insurance industry to take away their rights. Today, for once the court has sided with the victims and said that the government cannot just draw up deals in the dark with insurers.”