Asbestos illness compensation to be exempted from government legal changes

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After "tireless" campaign pressure, the justice ministry has conceded that sufferers seeking compensation for asbestos-related illnesses will initially be exempt from proposed changes to 'no-win no-fee' rules.

Asbestos

The government proposals, which would force successful claimants to pay some of their damages to their legal advisers, will be subject to ministerial review.

Experts say the move suggests a rethink by the government, as its Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill passes through Parliament.

The current changes to no-win, no-fee will prevent lawyers from claiming fees from the losing side, instead entitling them to up to a quarter of their own client's total payout.

However, because of the indisputable severity of asbestos illnesses, campaigners have called for mesothelioma victims to be exempt from the changes, which ministers say are meant to deter false claims.

Symptoms of mesothelioma, a cancer which attacks the lining of the lungs, can take decades after asbestos exposure to appear. The material was often inhaled at work, with builders, plumbers and teachers in 1960s schools the most frequent sufferers.

The justice minister Jonathan Djanogly acknowledged that he had undertaken "careful reflection about the special case of mesothelioma sufferers", and that his department would now impose a delay.

Pledging the government's "commitment to action", Mr Djanogly said he will also consider easier ways to trace former employers' insurers, further helping sufferers and their lawyers.

"We are working closely with insurers and other stakeholders on this pressing issue, with a view to making an announcement by this July."

Emma Costin, Head of Industrial Disease at Simpson Millar LLP, noted that campaigners have worked tirelessly for justice in the face of an obstinate government, which is now backtracking.

"Ministers appeared determined to force through changes to the funding of compensation claims that would have obliged mesothelioma sufferers and their dependents to pay for legal advice out of their damages," said Emma.

"Only very recently, Mr Djanogly told the Commons that he did not regard mesothelioma cases as in any way different from other personal injury claims, yet a week later he has apparently changed his mind."

The opposition has welcomed the change in the government's position. Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, said that victims of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses should not be obliged to give part of their damages to their lawyers and insurers, and that the wrongdoers should fund the cost of the successful litigation.

"Someone suffering this horrible disease is not making up their cancer to make a quick buck," said Mr Khan. "They cannot possibly be part of the compensation culture."

While Emma Costin also welcomed the announcement, she added that the minister's comments remain a cause for concern "since he suggests that the reprieve will only be temporary with further announcements expected by July".


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