The Ministry of Justice and in particular the Justice Minister, Helen Grant (pictured), have come under fire from charities supporting sufferers of the asbestos related cancer, mesothelioma, over claims Ms Grant agreed not to introduce changes to the compensation regime that they did not support.
The allegations stem from a meeting held last week between Helen Grant and charities including the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum, Macmillan, Mesothelioma UK, the June Hancock Mesothelioma Research fund and the Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Research fund.
The meetings were held to try and diffuse the tensions caused by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ)’s wholesale adoption of policies encouraged by the insurance industry and in particular the Association of British Insurers (ABI).
At the meeting she is said to have assured the charities that nothing would be done that was not welcomed by the victims and their families but the government has since embarrassingly backtracked on this, insisting no such pledge was given, effectively accusing the charities of lying.
Ms Grant said in a statement: “I was pleased to meet representatives from asbestos charities last week and to have such a constructive and helpful discussion. Their views will be valuable, along with those of others, as we develop our plans for reforms to help sufferers of this awful condition.
“I have asked the groups to respond fully to our consultation so they and others can inform our next steps.
The consultation for the mesothelioma reforms closed earlier this week, with many people believing that the reforms are still way off the mark and will leave thousands of victims, still without the support they need to claim.
The insurance industry argues that increasing the timescale from when a victim was diagnosed, to allow them to claim under the Bill, will cost too much. But for many including the charities, and the personal injury lobby, this should not be the resounding consideration when it comes to a victim of mesothelioma being allowed to claim, as if the insurers and had kept their paperwork up to date then there would not be a requirement for such a Bill.
There is also debate on how much compensation is being rewarded to those that are included in the Mesothelioma Bill. The suggested provisions of the Bill say that any claimant whose claim comes under the Bill will only receive 75% of the damages they would have received had they had their former employer’s insurance details, effectively stealing vital compensation from the terminally ill, that should be rewarded to help them with their condition and to support their families.
Speaking about the consultation the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum stated: “We do not expect government to include all the options put to them: it is their prerogative to determine the appropriate options. But to exclude even one option from the claimant’s perspective seems perverse.”
They went on to attack the ABI’s role in the suggested reforms saying: “The ABI proposals in this consultation paper have nothing to do with speeding up claims. Early liability could be admitted under existing pre-action process – it is not. The intention is to take control of the claims process by: falsely describing claims as inappropriate for court action and imposing sanctions for doing so; demanding more information to position the defendant to resist claims; and imposing fixed costs to limit the opportunity for claimants to have fair and expert representation.”
The forum has themselves proposed an alternative to the suggestions in the bill in which they ask the government to provide adequate funding for all litigated mesothelioma cases to be listed at the Royal Courts of Justice where a single, specialised, expert court would make decisions as part of a cost-effective fast track procedure.
It remains to be seen what legislation the Government will pass after this consultation but you can almost guarantee the real winners from it will be the insurance companies as they have been with every other personal injury reform introduced.
1. Legal Futures; http://www.legalfutures.co.uk/blog/the-strange-case-disappearing-justice-minister