The Government has performed a U-turn on its proposals to introduce a new set of rules to handle out-of-court mesothelioma settlements.
Ministers have opted to scrap the Mesothelioma Pre Action Protocol (MPAP) and will not set standardised payments for lawyers making claims after reviewing the responses to its consultation on claims involving the disease, many of which were highly critical of the Government's plans.
The MPAP would have been built by the insurance industry and was supposed to help victims or their lawyers to quickly settle uncontested claims with the insurers of the employers responsible for exposing them to asbestos.
Critics of the MPAP argued that taking cases to the specialist mesothelioma court is usually the only way to persuade defendants and their insurers to admit liability for causing the disease, and so to get the claim settled quickly.
Justice Minister Shailesh Vara said that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) would now look at new ways to improve the legal process and would work with victims groups and insurers representing employers on a new plan. He did, however, confirm that mesothelioma claims would be aligned with other personal injury claims by ending recoverability.
Other measures to support mesothelioma sufferers, including a £350m fund to compensate those who cannot trace the liable employer, are already being put in place by insurers and the Department for Work and Pensions through the Mesothelioma Bill currently progressing through Parliament.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) welcomed the Government's recognition that its initial proposals would not help to settle cases quickly for mesothelioma victims.
Karl Tonks, the former president of APIL said that the association was looking forward to working closely with the Government to improve the claims process for victims of the disease.
But he also said that APIL was concerned that mesothelioma victims may no longer be protected from reforms to the costs system, which were implemented through the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act back in April.
“We argued from the outset that the cost implications of the changes could mean that some mesothelioma claims may never be brought to court at all,” said Tonks. “In those cases which do go ahead, sufferers may have to make deductions from their damages to pay their costs, which they can ill afford to do.
“We understand the Government has conducted a review of this issue and we await justification for this decision.”