Michael Cook fears the government could overturn the law on pleural plaques

There are many things to make an Englishman proud – heritage, language, legal system and democracy to name a few. But it seems as though the distinction between the latter two is beginning to diminish.

It was not so long ago that the government was scrambling to amend the Compensation Act following the House of Lords decision in the Barker case. This case overturned recent decisions with regards to the allocation of liability and, therefore, compensation for mesothelioma claimants in the UK.

It decided that employers or companies, and therefore their insurers, were liable only for their share of the overall claim and not, as had been previously ruled, for the full amount of the claim.

It took the government a record five weeks to amend the Compensation Act to override this House of Lords’ decision. This essentially restored the world to how it was before the Law Lords had made their decision in Barker.

The reversal in itself was a dangerous enough precedent to set – are we now to see the government once more effectively overrule the House of Lords?

The matter again relates to UK asbestos, but this time pleural plaques. The House of Lords recently ruled that pleural plaques are not compensatable in the UK, as they do not constitute an injury under the terms of insurance cover and/or law. As a result someone diagnosed with pleural plaques is unable to bring a claim.

However, we are hearing noises from Westminster that the government is readying itself to overturn this decision too.

Why would it do this? Is it because it has looked at all the medical evidence, the legal basis to make a claim, the insurance cover purchased by companies over decades and, having reviewed all the facts, decided that the judges have ruled in error?

In a word, ‘no’.

I believe the government is giving in to pressure from trade unions and other lobbying groups and some of their key constituencies to overrule this “unjust” decision and allow those with pleural plaques to receive compensation.

It is staggering to imagine that things like this can happen in England. It would appear that the independence of the judiciary is rapidly becoming meaningless if, at any time, the government does not like the outcome of court cases – especially House of Lords’ decisions – it can just change the law.

While I do not believe that democracy in England is about to crumble, it is a very worrying trend to see such decisions overturned, especially for the insurance industry.

These cases have been argued through the court system by multiple experts over a numbers of years. Many thousands of pounds have been spent in costs to obtain a final decision from the House of Lords, only for the government to change the outcome. IT