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Justice Committee Report On Mesothelioma Claims

Friday, August 1, 2014

GMB Welcomes Justice Committee Call For Government To Think Again Over Mesothelioma Compensation

The original consultation was clearly flawed and it's absolutely right to look again at this as quickly as possible says GMB.

GMB commented on the report from the Justice Committee which concludes that the Government's review of mesothelioma claims under section 48 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) was not prepared in a thorough and even-handed manner and calls on the Government to undertake a fresh consultation. See notes to editors for copy of the press release and for pdf with the full report at foot of this release on GMB website www.gmb.org.uk .

Daniel Shears, GMB National Health and Safety Officer, said "GMB strongly welcome the report and it's recommendations.

The original consultation was clearly flawed and it's absolutely right to look again at this as quickly as possible.

In particular the behind the scenes deal done between the ABI and the Government flew in the face of an open consultation and we thank the committee for bringing this shady backroom deal to light."

End

For more information please contact  Dan Shears 07918 767781  or GMB press office on 07974 251 823.

Notes to editors

Copy of press release from Justice Committee dated 1st August 2014

Mesothelioma compensation: Government must consult again following "maladroit" review, says Justice Committee

The Justice Committee concludes, in a report published today, that the Government's  review of mesothelioma claims under section 48 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) was not prepared in a thorough and even-handed manner, and it calls on the Government to undertake a fresh consultation.

On other matters to do with the mesothelioma claims process, the Committee-

* urges 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 had to be obtained against an insolvent insured party
* calls for the Ministry of Justice to work in tandem with the Department of Health to reduce delays in the production of medical records of mesothelioma victims.

The Chair of the Committee, Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith MP, said: "We listened carefully to views on both sides of an emotive and polarised debate about the process of claiming compensation for this terrible disease, caused by exposure to asbestos. We have concluded that the Government's approach has been unsatisfactory on a number of counts. The Government was not reconciled to the concession it was forced to make in Parliament during the passage of the LASPO legislation to exempt mesothelioma cases from its provisions, and determined to review the exemption as soon as it could. In its haste the Government failed to ensure that relevant information, such as a cost-benefit analysis of the changes, was available to interested parties. It also shoehorned part of its section 48 review into a wider consultation on changes to the mesothelioma claims process, most of which were not proceeded with.

We also believe the Government should take urgent action to legislate to bring the Third Party (Rights Against Insurers) Act 2010 into force, and should reduce delays in the production of medical records. Both these steps would improve the claims process for mesothelioma victims".

Mesothelioma, or cancer of the lining of the lungs, is one of a number of serious diseases caused by exposure to asbestos, normally in an occupational setting. It is a painful and debilitating disease, and life expectancy following diagnosis is usually between 10 and 24 months. There were 2,291 deaths from mesothelioma in Great Britain in 2011, and the number of cases is expected to continue rising before peaking towards the end of this decade.

The Government's review was into whether sections 44 and 46 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 should apply to mesothelioma compensation claims, as they already do to other personal injury claims. Under these sections, successful claimants pursuing cases under conditional fee agreements may no longer reclaim from losing parties the success fees charged by their own lawyers; nor may they reclaim the cost of taking out insurance against having to pay the other side's costs, so-called after-the-event insurance. The Government contends that other reforms brought in to civil litigation funding arrangements, including a 10% uplift in the level of general damages for personal injury claims, will mean that claimants are likely to receive a net financial benefit, but this was contested by claimant representatives and their lawyers.

In its inquiry the Committee heard evidence that success fees charged by claimant lawyers were too high, given the degree of risk involved in bringing mesothelioma claims. As a result, the Committee recommends that the Government commission an independent review of the risks of success and failure of all mesothelioma cases to inform the setting of a maximum level of success fee, expressed as a percentage of costs, for lawyers representing claimants in such cases.

In the course of the Committee's inquiry, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) provided it with a copy of a Heads of Agreement document drawn up between the Association and the Government in 2012. The ABI and the Government both argued that this document did not constitute a binding contract, and some important proposals contained in it have not been implemented. The Committee is however critical of the fact that the Government was not open and transparent about the existence of this document, either with the Committee itself or with other participants in the debate, including mesothelioma victims themselves.

Sir Alan Beith added:

"It was a surprise to us that the Government concluded a heads of agreement, however informal its status, with parties on one side of the argument about mesothelioma. 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."

Notes for editors:

Between July and October 2013 the Government conducted a consultation on the mesothelioma claims process.1 The three main proposals for change included in this consultation were --

* introduction of a dedicated Mesothelioma Pre-Action Protocol (MPAP)
* establishment of an online Secure Mesothelioma Claims Gateway for exchange of information relating to claims;
* introduction of a fixed recoverable costs regime.

The second part of the Government's consultation paper of July 2013 explained that the Government was conducting a review under section 48 of LASPO of the likely effects of the application of sections 44 and 46 on mesothelioma proceedings, and asked a question about this matter.

In a Written Statement dated 4 December 2013, the Government announced that it had decided to apply sections 44 and 46 of LASPO to mesothelioma cases with effect from July 2014.2 In its formal response to the consultation, published on 6 March 2014,3 the Government confirmed this position. In a letter sent to the Committee following the oral evidence session, however, Lord Faulks said it would no longer be possible to commence the provisions in July and the Government's intention was to proceed with implementation in autumn 2014. In its consultation response the Government also stated that it would not take forward any of the other main proposals set out in the consultation paper: the MPAP, the Secure Gateway and the fixed recoverable costs regime.

In parallel the Government introduced legislation to set up a Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme, funded by employers' liability insurers, to provide compensation to mesothelioma sufferers unable to trace a liable employer or insurer. The first payments under the Mesothelioma Act 2014 were expected to be made in July 2014.

A judicial review has been brought against the Government's decision to apply sections 44 and 46 of LASPO to mesothelioma claims. The House's sub judice resolution, which precludes reference in parliamentary proceedings to most cases before the courts, does not apply to judicial reviews of ministerial decisions.

Committee Membership is as follows:
Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith (Liberal Democrat, Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Chair); Steve Brine (Conservative, Winchester); Mr Robert Buckland (Conservative, South Swindon); Rehman Chishti (Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham); Christopher Chope (Conservative, Christchurch); Jeremy Corbyn (Labour, Islington North); John Cryer (Labour, Leyton and Wansted); Nick de Bois (Conservative, Enfield North); Rt Hon Elfyn Llwyd (Plaid Cymru, Dwyfor Meirionnydd); Andy McDonald (Labour, Middlesbrough); John McDonnell (Labour, Hayes and Harlington); Yasmin Qureshi (Labour, Bolton South East).

Specific Committee Information: justicecom@parliament.uk/<mailto:justicecom@parliament.uk/> 020 7219 8196/8198

Media Information: Liz Parratt ParrattL@parliament.uk/<mailto:ParrattL@parliament.uk/> 020 7219 1708

Committee Website: www.parliament.uk/justicecttee<http://www.parliament.uk/justicecttee>

Watch committees and parliamentary debates online: www.parliamentlive.tv<http://www.parliamentlive.tv

 

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Additional Resources

House of Commons Justice Committee Mesothelioma Claims Third Report of Session 2014–15

download pdf2926Kb (pdf) - 01 August 2014

House of Commons Justice Committee Report