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Djanogly spares mesothelioma victims from Jackson reforms

25 April 2012

Justice minister Jonathan Djanogly told the Commons yesterday that the government was prepared to spare mesothelioma cases from the Jackson report’s ban on recoverability of success fees and insurance premiums.

Earlier this week the House of Lords reinserted into the legal aid bill Lord Alton’s amendment calling for the exemption (see solicitorsjournal.com, 25 April 2012).

In an unexpected concession, Djanogly said the ban on recoverability, due to be introduced with the other Jackson reforms in April 2013, would not apply to the “special position of mesothelioma sufferers”.

He said clauses 43 and 45 of the legal aid bill would be implemented “at a later date, once we are satisfied on the way forward for those who are unable to trace their employer’s insurer”.

The justice minister went on: “The amendment commits the Lord Chancellor to carrying out a review of the likely effect of the clauses in relation to mesothelioma proceedings and to publish a report before those clauses are implemented.”

Shadow justice spokesman Sadiq Khan said he hoped the review would consider the impact on victims’ damages.

“According to some, they will increase by up to ten per cent as a result of the government’s proposals, but others disagree, and we expect the review to look into that.”

Khan said the review should also consider the impact on access to justice and the interaction of the Jackson reforms with the new employers’ liability insurance bureau.

Tracey Crouch, Conservative MP for Chatham and a leading supporter of Lord Alton’s amendment, welcomed the government’s concession.

“It is not right to force victims of an extraordinary disease – when no fraud is possible and compensation is certain – to shop around for a lawyer during their last few months of life in an attempt to pay the lowest possible success fees as a proportion of a payment that they deserve.

“Discussion of this issue should never have been a fight about compassion for those with mesothelioma – it is a pretty heartless person who does not show compassion for those who suffer from the disease – but, rather, should have dealt with how best to protect the interests of the people who find themselves victims, and those of their families.

“Without the amendment, the practical implications of the law as drafted for victims of mesothelioma would have been hugely damaging.

“Regardless of what colleagues on either side of the House may think of lawyers and insurance companies, it would ultimately be the victim, who would be going through intense suffering through no fault of their own, who lost out.

“The amendment rightly exempts mesothelioma from the overall package of reforms in the bill, but it should be considered the beginning, not the end of the discussion.”

A spokeswoman for the MoJ added: “This is a terrible disease. We want to see sufferers able to claim compensation at the earliest possible opportunity.

“We are therefore working closely with the Department for Work and Pensions and stakeholders to help mesothelioma sufferers who are unable to trace their employer’s insurer. We hope to be in a position to make an announcement on this before the summer recess.”

MPs overturned the two other outstanding amendments, Lord Pannick’s amendment on access to justice and Baroness Scotland’s on domestic violence, by large majorities.

The bill will return to the Lords tonight, when peers will consider whether to reinsert the two amendments a second time.

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Legal Aid Costs Health & Safety