The High Court has set out a new procedure to help the families of workers who died from asbestos-related diseases trace their employment histories.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) said the procedure would enable personal representatives and lawyers acting for estates to obtain an order for disclosure of National Insurance records.
Last year’s deeply unpopular policy of HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) that means it will only release the employment history of a mesothelioma victim to their lawyer with a High Court order.
Since then, the High Court had “expressed misgivings” about being asked to make an order for pre-action disclosure where HMRC was unlikely to be party to future personal injury litigation.
The new procedure, which follows APIL’s intervention, is set out in an annex to a ruling by Master McCloud, one of the two specialist mesothelioma masters at the Royal Courts of Justice. The other one, Master Eastman, has approved the arrangements.
In Yates v HMRC  EWHC 2311 (QB), Master McCloud said HMRC’s change of policy had created a “serious problem that intending claimants could not obtain the employment histories needed to be able to identify and sue the correct tortfeasors”.
She said the issue was in danger of disrupting “an otherwise smoothly operating process”, and would remain a “temporary obstacle” to the progression of claims until the law was changed.
Under the new procedure, agreed by HMRC and APIL, the claim would be issued against “persons unknown” to ensure the court had jurisdiction to order disclosure.
Claimants can then apply by e-mail to the High Court for a disclosure order, attaching a witness statement and draft order, using the version contained in a schedule to the ruling.
Master McCloud said: “The underlying approach to asbestos claims places the doing of justice, at speed and with improved efficiency, at the forefront; formalities of procedure take second place if they interfere with that.”
APIL described the move as an “interim measure”, before the passing into law at the end of this year of the Deregulation Bill 2014, which will enable disclosure of deceased workers’ NI records.
The association added that the procedure would result in a “considerable saving of costs and court time” and had been agreed with HMRC, which had indicated that it would not generally not enforce costs orders against applicants.