Christmas Insult to Dying Victims
One week before Christmas, the UK Government announced proposals to reform the mesothelioma claims process in Written Ministerial Statements to the House of Commons and the House of Lords tabled respectively by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice Mrs. Helen Grant and the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice Lord McNally. The scheme, which has been judged not fit for purpose, by victims' representatives, will introduce fixed legal fees for mesothelioma claims; a dedicated pre-action protocol for those claims and an electronic portal on which the claims will be registered. The government's stated aim is to settle these claims as quickly as possible.
There is little doubt, however, that the true motivation behind this scheme is the curtailment of the asbestos liabilities of UK insurers, major Conservative Party donors. The proposals have been devised and nuanced during negotiations behind closed doors by insurance industry and government representatives; claimants, asbestos victims' support group members and trade unionists have been excluded from all the discussions. In his analysis of this situation, legal expert Ian McFall wrote:
The bottom line is that this package has more to do with insurance industry profits and shareholder returns than with concerns for mesothelioma victims. After all, this is the same industry that has spent a fortune in legal costs for over a decade on a strategy to evade liabilities to asbestos victims and which has only ever paid out in other industrial disease claims deafness, welders lung, vibration white finger and repetitive strain injuries etc. when litigation forced them to do so. The leopard hadn't changed its spots.1
Echoing these concerns, on December 19th, Stuart Henderson, from Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, said:
Mesothelioma cases by their very nature are complex, often going back 30 and 40 years and involving detailed investigations. Yet the Government's proposals would yet again force innocent people to work within arbitrary fixed cost regimes while their opponents those representing the companies which allowed their staff to be exposed to deadly asbestos would have access to the best legal representation money can buy and no restraints on their costs. That doesn't represent fairness, which is the principle which should underpin a modern justice system.2
It looks like 2013 will bring more heartache and despair for the dying and more profits for Tory fellow travellers. Shame on them.
December 19, 2012
1 McFall I. Mesothelioma Scheme not Fit for Purpose. British Asbestos Newsletter; Issue 88, 2012.
2 Mesothelioma proposals will render victims powerless. December 18, 2012.