The reaction to the brutal decision by the Law Lords in the case of Barker v. Corus has been one of widespread condemnation.1 In the aftermath of Barker, government sources reported that the decision, which will deprive asbestos victims of millions of pounds in compensation, had led to high-level on-going discussions.
On May 16, 2006, John Hutton MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, took the opportunity of the annual seminar of the Asbestos Sub-Committee of the House of Commons to make a statement and engage in dialogue with asbestos victims and their representatives. The Minister said that the Barker decision involved major issues of policy as well as fairness; they (the Law Lords) got it wrong, he admitted. Hutton confirmed that discussions were taking place between officials from the Department of Work and Pensions, the Association of British Insurers, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers and the Department of Constitutional Affairs regarding the post- Barker situation.
As would be expected, many delegates at the seminar were eager to put questions to the Minister.and elicit government responses on a number of key issues. These included:
concern over rumors that a scheme for mesothelioma victims would be imposed with little or no consultation. The processing of claims under government schemes is notoriously slow and mesothelioma victims do not have the time to wait for time-consuming bureaucratic processes. Tony Whitston of the Forum of Asbestos Victim Support Groups, said: Mesothelioma sufferers deserve much better treatment then they had in the past. We will not acquiesce with any scheme that operates to the detriment of mesothelioma sufferers. John McClean of the GMB was disappointed that the trade unions had not been invited to take part in the government consultation. This sentiment was echoed in a TUC press release in which General Secretary Brendan Barber said: unions and asbestos support groups must be involved in any talks about the proposals that take place any reform must have the needs of victims and their families at its heart.
the role of the Government in the Barker debacle; British Shipbuilders brought two of the three cases in the Barker appeal;
UK mesothelioma patients are penalized by a post-code lottery in the prescription of Alimta, a drug that has been effective in alleviating symptoms in some patients. Alimta is not available to patients in London, Birmingham and the East Midlands although it is routinely dispensed in Scotland and Manchester. The cost of treating all UK mesothelioma patients who could benefit from Alimta is estimated to be £3-4 million a year;
no UK Government funding has been allocated for research into mesothelioma;
the fast-track system currently being operated by Master Steven Whitaker in the Royal Courts of Justice (London) has made a huge improvement in the disposition of justice for mesothelioma victims; an expansion of this system country-wide would be more beneficial for claimants than the imposition of a scheme.
During Prime Minister's Question Time on May 17, 2006, Prime Minister Tony Blair replied to MP Jim Sheridan that he would meet a delegation on the Barker case; no date has been announced.
May 18, 2006