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‘Don’t Cut Access To Justice’ Plea From Asbestos Campaigner

MPs Urged to Back LASPO Bill Amends Tabled in House Of Lords To Protect Industrial Illness Victims


A campaigner, who recently won a Supreme Court battle which will help thousands of industrial disease victims, says Government plans to force those who contract illnesses at work to pay legal costs out of their damages would be a ‘big mistake’, seriously affecting access to justice.

Ruth Durham fought for six years to establish that the insurers at the time of exposure to the deadly dust were liable for their claims. She had continued with legal action on behalf of her father who died of asbestos related disease mesothelioma before the end of the court battle.

She has now joined her lawyers Irwin Mitchell in making a plea to MPs to support amends tabled by two Peers to exempt industrial illnesses from the planned civil justice changes set out in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO).

Ruth said: “When my dad and I began the legal process six years ago he knew he would not live to see his case won, but he believed that if going to court would help other people in the future, then that was what we should do.”

Their legal battle started in August 2006 when the insurance company for his employer refused to pay out to help provide his family with financial security. Following several challenges over the years the final Supreme Court judgment was handed down last month in favour of the illness victims.

Ruth said: “I persevered because I was determined to see the case to its conclusion for my dad's sake. I was so relieved that justice prevailed and hope that nobody will ever have to endure such a complicated and technical legal process again. This case was never about money, it was to make sure that anyone in the future who suffers through this terrible disease will be acknowledged by these insurers.

“The final judgment shows how important it is that illness victims and their families are fairly compensated for the devastating illnesses contracted, often many decades previously. It would be a big mistake if Parliament was to make it more difficult for future victims to access justice in these cases.”

Adrian Budgen, Partner and Head of the Asbestos Related Disease Team that helped Ruth win her court battle, said: “As the final stages and votes on the LASPO Bill get underway we urge the government to support two crucial amendments which potentially affect thousands of past, current and future victims of serious industrial illnesses, including the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma.”

During the Lords stage of the Bill, amendments tabled by Lord Alton and Lord Bach exempted mesothelioma and other respiratory disease victims and victims of industrial illnesses generally from the provisions of the Bill with regard to civil justice changes.

Adrian added: “These amendments offered the Government the chance to avoid turning back the clock on access to justice for victims of these diseases.

“The extremely worrying proposals which these amendments referred to would have had serious unintended consequences for the ability of industrial illness victims to access justice at a time when they need help from the law the most. Future victims would face having to pay some of their legal costs from their damages. In many cases, particularly those relating to mesothelioma, victims do not survive long enough to see the end of the legal case brought in their name and the damages received provide much-needed financial security for the devastated families they leave behind.

“We urge MPs to support the amendments and protect future innocent victims from having their access to justice eroded for illnesses they contracted through nothing more than going to work and doing their job, due to their employer’s negligence.

“There is still time to act on this issue and to ensure we end up with a Bill which is fair to all sides.”