Justice Committee criticises the intial consultation for being rushed through

The government was neither thorough nor even-handed in its consultation on including mesothelioma claims in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (Laspo) reforms, a Justice Committee review has found.

The committee has therefore recommended that a further consultation is conducted by the government to assess whether or not mesothelioma claims should be excluded from the reforms.

The chair of the committee, Sir Alan Beith, said: “We have concluded that the government’s approach has been unsatisfactory on a number of counts. The government was not reconciled to the concession it was forced to make in Parliament during the passage of the Laspo legislation to exempt mesothelioma cases from its provisions, and determined to review the exemption as soon as it could.

“In its haste the Government failed to ensure that relevant information, such as a cost-benefit analysis of the changes, was available to interested parties.”

However, as the government was criticised for acting before the full impact of the reforms could be analysed, the Justice Committee has recommended that the consultation be delayed until the full effect of the Laspo reforms can be assessed.

The government has also come under criticism for the agreement it entered into with the ABI laying out plans for how mesothelioma claims should be handled, as well as the lack of transparency regarding the arrangement.

Beith said: “It was a surprise to us that the government concluded a heads of agreement, however informal its status, with parties on one side of the argument about mesothelioma. The provisions of this document, which remained undisclosed to other interested parties, have shaped the government’s approach to this issue, and we are concerned that the government appears to have had no intention of supplying us with this document as part of our inquiry.”

However, ABI assistant director, head of motor and liability James Dalton said the association did not regret entering into the agreement with the government.

“While insurers did not expose anyone to asbestos, the industry has always been open and transparent on its commitment to help as many mesothelioma claimants and their families as possible,” he said. “We make no apologies for negotiating with government a scheme, paid for by insurers, that will compensate an extra 3,000 sufferers over the next ten years, who would otherwise go uncompensated.”

Dalton also took the opportunity to criticise claimant lawyers and called on them to answer questions as to why they were not being more receptive to cutting legal costs by supporting applying the Laspo reforms to mesothelioma claims.

“Significantly, this report raises the issue of high legal costs in mesothelioma claims, citing an average legal cost of £20,000 for every mesothelioma claim in England and Wales,” he said. “Excessive legal costs mean higher insurance premiums for all employers, and clearly claimant lawyers have got some difficult questions to answer about why they do not support lower legal costs.” 

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