Disease campaigners win asbestos reprieve The government has said it will for the moment exempt people suffering from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma from highly contentious measures in its legal reforms. The concession came after a well-organised national campaign co-ordinated by the Asbestos Victims Support Groups’ Forum UK (AVSGF), which argued the changes in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill would deny justice to victims of often fatal occupational diseases (Risks 552). This week the government, faced with pressure from the House of Lords in the debate on the Bill, agreed to exempt mesothelioma sufferers from a provision that requires compensation claimants to pay up to 25 per cent of their damages in legal costs. Liberal peer Lord Alton successfully moved the amendment to exempt mesothelioma sufferers, which was subsequently overturned in the Commons, but with the second lowest majority in this parliamentary session. Five Conservative MPs and two Lib Dem MPs voted against the government. Lord Alton won the vote on the amendment again when it returned to the Lords. Then, on its return to the Commons on 24 April, the government agreed to exempt mesothelioma sufferers from paying legal costs until the impact of the Bill on them has been properly assessed and a report made to the Lord Chancellor. AVSGF chair Tony Whitston commented: “Lord Alton has rendered a great service to mesothelioma sufferers in moving this amendment through the Lords with support from peers from all parties and none. Many MPs from all parties simply could not stomach taking compensation from people dying from the fatal asbestos cancer, mesothelioma. It is vital that this concession is honoured and that there are no further attempts to reduce compensation to mesothelioma sufferers.” However, mesotheliomas make up considerable less than a quarter of the total occupational cancer toll, and a tiny fraction of cases of occupational diseases and injuries. These other cases are not subject to the exemption agreed by justice minister Jonathan Djanogly. He told the Commons there had been “careful reflection about the special case of mesothelioma sufferers”, adding the planned changes would not be introduced next April but at a “later date”. AVSGF news release [pdf]. Commons debate on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, 24 April 2012, Hansard report.
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