Update from the UK’s Asbestos Battleground
European cancer researchers have reaffirmed that the UK still has the highest age-standardized mesothelioma incidence in the world. Our rate of 3.4 per 100,000 men exceeds that of Italy (3.2), the Netherlands (2.85), New Zealand (2.5) and Malta (2.08), the other countries in the top five.1 The ubiquity of this asbestos cancer in Britain is not news; neither is the failure by successive governments, of all persuasions, to engage with the deadly legacy posed by our consumption of seven million tonnes of asbestos during the last century. On January 12, 2015, Shadow Minister of State for Employment Stephen Timms broke with tradition when he announced plans for a joined-up long-term national asbestos strategy which would both support the injured and pursue the ultimate goal of decontaminating the national infrastructure and environment. In a published interview, Timms said that a Labour Government would impose a standing three percent industry levy on insurers to fund life-saving mesothelioma research and would provide resources to enable the HSE to effectively protect workers from the imminent risk posed by asbestos-containing products hidden within the built environment.2
Under the ConservativeLiberal Democrat coalition, the rights of asbestos victims have been attacked by insurers, their lawyers and the Government. A recent attempt to deprive mesothelioma sufferers of substantial amounts of damages in order to safeguard insurance industry profits was quashed by the High Court in a judicial review judgment handed down on October 2, 2014 by Mr. Justice William Davis. The landmark verdict in the case of Tony Whitston (for and on behalf of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK) v. Secretary of State for Justice and Association of British Insurers at the Royal Courts of Justice (CO/966/2014) vindicated claims made by the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum that the Government had failed to meet the legitimate procedural expectation of those affected via a contentious review of the likely effects of the provisions of Section 44 and 46 [of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 /LASPO] in relation to claims for damages for diffuse mesothelioma.3 The Judge reiterated that the core point in the proceedings:
is whether the Lord Chancellor conducted a proper review of the likely effect of the LASPO reforms on mesothelioma claims. For the reasons given above I conclude that he did not. No reasonable Lord Chancellor faced with the duty imposed on him by Section 48 of the Act would have considered that the exercise in fact carried out fulfilled that duty
the Lord Chancellor has failed to carry out a review as required by Section 48. The statutory consequence of such a declaration must be that that Sections 44 and 46 cannot be brought into force in relation to proceedings relating to a claim for damages in respect of diffuse mesothelioma. The decision of the 4th December 2013 will fail as a result of the operation of Section 48.
Commenting on the successful outcome of the judicial review, Chair of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK Doug Jewell said:
Following on from the October 2nd verdict, the legal rights of mesothelioma victims have remained unaffected. With all the political parties now focused on the election, we hope that nothing will change for some while. When this issue is revisited, the Forum will be happy to cooperate with all stakeholders to ensure that a proper, transparent and evidence based review is undertaken before changes to LASPO are made.
In the run-up to the May general election, there will be many promises made by political parties. Each one of those asking for our votes should allocate a few minutes to read the tragic commentary published on January 16, 2015 headlined Experience: I planned to kill my father.4 The story detailed in this text has been repeated all over the British Isles it describes the terrible suffering and human loss caused by asbestos, a substance which brought great wealth and many benefits to the executives, directors and shareholders of British asbestos corporations. In a scant eleven paragraphs, Sarah Partridge explains how her father, a GP with mesothelioma, had asked for her help to end his life. I said yes and shut the door. I opened it again and said, But only because I love you. The extent of his physical torment had driven a loving daughter to contemplate the unthinkable. The least the new government can do is to acknowledge these tragedies and eliminate the hazard once and for all.
March 3, 2015 (This article first appeared in Issue 96 of the British Asbestos Newsletter.)
1 Bianchi C., Bianchi T. Global Mesothelioma Epidemic: Trend and Features. Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Vol 18, No 2. May-August 2014.
2 Warburton N. Banging the health and safety drum. January 12, 2015.
3 Tony Whitston (for and on behalf of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK) v. Secretary of State for Justice and Association of British Insurers.
Judgment of October 2, 2014 by Mr. Justice William Davis in the case of Tony Whitston (for and on behalf of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK) v. Secretary of State for Justice and Association of British Insurers.
Also see: Kazan-Allen L. Challenging the Governments Secret Deal on Mesothelioma. British Asbestos Newsletter, Issue 95, Summer 2014. http://www.britishasbestosnewsletter.org/ban95.htm
4 Patridge S. Experience: I planned to kill my father. January 16, 2015.