The government never intended that mesothelioma victims should use statutory compensation awards to pay enhanced court fees, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has said.
The comment follows the announcement by the MoJ last week that the government would amend the Courts and Tribunals Fee Remissions Order 2013 to protect mesothelioma sufferers.
As a result, the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK withdrew its judicial review challenge, based on the argument that enhanced court fees breached victims’ rights to a fair trial under Article 6 of the Convention.
“It was not our intention that people suffering from mesothelioma should be required to use their compensation to pay court fees,” a spokesman for the MoJ said.
“We are amending the fee remission scheme, so that these compensation payments are disregarded. The fees orders will be changed as soon as possible but in the meantime these payments will be excluded from the capital test.”
Rob Weir QC, based at Devereux Chambers, who acted for the applicants in the judicial review, said the problem was that mesothelioma victims “invariably obtained” ‘lump sum’ payments from the government in the form of awards under, among others, the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme.
“The average of these payments for mesothelioma victims was around £13,000,” Mr Weir said.
“Anyone with over £16,000 of capital automatically fell outside the Fee Remissions order. That meant that, in practice, all mesothelioma victims were fairly bound not to be able to benefit from the Fee Remissions order and would have to meet the substantial court fee themselves (or rely on their solicitors to pay).”
Mr Weir said the government “finally reacted” to the judicial review by promising that payments made under the Pneumoconiosis etc (Workers Compensation) Act 1979, the 2008 Scheme or the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme, would no longer be kept out of the definition of ‘excluded capital’.
“In this way, mesothelioma claimants who, aside from these payments, do not have £16,000 of spare capital will now be entitled to rely on the fee remissions scheme,” Mr Weir said.
“Pending the statutory amendment, the Lord Chancellor will exercise his discretion to treat such awards as excluded capital.
“On the basis of this concession, the claim for judicial review has now been withdrawn and the claimant’s costs paid by the Lord Chancellor.
“The outcome will make a key difference for mesothelioma claimants, not least those instructing small specialist firms without the funds to pay for their clients’ court fees.”
The judicial review was due to be heard at the end of this month. Harminder Bains of Leigh Day was solicitor for the asbestos victims’ forum.