Mesothelioma Claims - Justice Committee Contents

7  Conclusion

35. We set ourselves the task of examining whether the Government's decision to apply sections 44 and 46 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 to mesothelioma claims was appropriate. The claims process for mesothelioma must take account of the principal factor which distinguishes the disease from others: the short life span which can be expected by those diagnosed with the invariably fatal disease. To a large extent, as we heard, legislation and court practices already seek to accommodate this feature of mesothelioma. The question is whether a further specific distinction should continue to be drawn in relation to the system of funding claims.

36. All who are involved in formulating policy on mesothelioma claims, and in handling them within the legal process, are acutely aware of the profoundly distressing circumstances in which mesothelioma sufferers find themselves, in most cases as a result of the negligence of a past employer or employers. That shared awareness plainly does not translate into practical consensus on the best mechanisms to apply to ensure that claims are dealt with swiftly and fairly. Indeed, we cannot recall any subject into which we have inquired on which there has been such a pronounced binary division of opinion and approach.

37. This is also an issue on which it is not easy to disentangle questions of process and substance. There are telling criticisms which can be levelled at the way the Government has handled this matter, some of which we have spelt out in this Report. The existence of an undisclosed "agreement" between the Government and the insurance industry is not conducive to the creation of trust among victims' representatives, claimant lawyers and others that an opposing viewpoint will be heard. The haste with which the Government embarked on a review and consultation, and the way in which it presented them, left those who favoured retention of the LASPO exemption for mesothelioma potentially disadvantaged in terms of marshalling a persuasive case.

38. We conclude that the Government, perhaps as a consequence of being forced into the concession of including an exemption for mesothelioma in the LASPO Act pending a review, did not prepare the ground for its section 48 review in a thorough and even-handed way. We recommend that the Government defer the introduction of the change it has announced until it has undertaken a further consultation, which should be framed unambiguously and centrally on the question of whether the LASPO provisions should be brought into effect for mesothelioma. This consultation should be informed by an updated cost-benefit analysis, on which respondents should be asked to comment. We consider that such a consultation should not be undertaken until sufficient time has elapsed for the effects of the LASPO changes in non-mesothelioma cases to be assessed.

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