Mesothelioma victims secure Government U-turn over court fees

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Mesothelioma sufferers will not have to stump up thousands in court fees in order to bring a claim against negligent employers after a Government U-turn on the issue.

The Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove has conceded defeat in a landmark court case in the High Court over legal fees charged to sufferers of asbestos-related cancers.

Legal action was brought against the Government by the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK – alongside mesothelioma sufferers Ian Doughty and Carole Sloper, who were represented by Leigh Day – over two pieces of legislation aimed at forcing victims of mesothelioma to pay almost £10,000 to go to court.

The claimants argued that for mesothelioma sufferers with a limited life expectancy giving up any of their disposable capital in the last months of their lives would prevent them from pursuing a claim.

The proposed new elements of legislation were the Civil Proceedings and Family Proceedings Fees (Amendment) Order 2015/576 and the Civil Proceedings Fees Order 2008/1053 as amended by the Courts and Tribunals Fee Remissions Order 2013/2302.

Under the orders, claimants would have recovered a lump sum payment under the Pneumoconiosis Etc (Workers’ Compensation) (PWC) Act of around £15,000. Leigh Day explained that provided the claimant had a nominal amount of other capital, then they would fall outside the scope of those entitled to benefit from the fee remissions scheme, which is £16,000.

With their claims for damages worth somewhere in the bracket of £150,000 to £300,000, they would have to meet an issue fee to the Courts of £10,000, or close to it.

The claimants applied to the Court for permission to Judicially Review the matter on an expedited basis due to the short life expectancy of mesothelioma sufferers. They were granted permission to do so and a hearing date was set for 23 and 24 July.

However, on the 2 July, the Lord Chancellor agreed in a letter to exclude from the definition of “disposable capital” compensation awards made to mesothelioma sufferers under the PWC Act, the 2008 Scheme and the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme.

He proposed to place an amending Statutory Instrument before Parliament and pending such amendment, to exercise his discretion in such a way as to treat such awards as excluded disposable capital for the purposes of fee remission and/or to interpret paragraph 10(j) of the Remissions Order in that way.

As a result, from 3 July, lump sum payments under the PWC Act will be excluded from the calculation of disposable capital when applying for fee remissions.

Harminder Bains, a partner at Leigh Day, said: “Initially the Government challenged the claimants arguments, stating that it was not ‘unreasonable’ for mesothelioma victims to use the lump sum payment to pay for court fees. A statement, which suggests an astonishingly uncaring attitude to the predicament of mesothelioma sufferers.

“By taking this legal action against the Government our clients have successfully ensured that mesothelioma sufferers will continue to have access to justice via the courts which the Lord Chancellor, by substantially increasing court fees, seems determined to prevent”.

Anthony Whitston on behalf of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK, said that mesothelioma sufferers should never have had to launch legal action to stop the Government ‘s plans. The matter was particularly galling as they were claiming compensation for the criminal negligence of employers, where often the Government was the employer and “continued to expose them to asbestos decades after it was known to cause cancer”.

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Marek Handzel

Marek Handzel is the editor of Claims Magazine. Marek welcomes articles, letters, or feedback from readers and can be reached by emailing marek.handzel@barkerbrooks.co.uk