Asbestos exemption to 'no-win, no-fee' changes

image captionMesothelioma is a form of cancer which can take decades to develop

Sufferers of asbestos-related cancer will initially be exempt from government changes to "no-win, no-fee" rules, a justice minister has said.

Jonathan Djanogly said there would first be a review of the changes, which will see successful claimants pay part of their damages to their solicitors.

Peers and campaigners say mesothelioma victims should be exempt because the illness's severity is indisputable.

The government says the changes are designed to deter spurious claims.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that can take decades to develop.

Most sufferers came into contact with asbestos during the course of their work - for example, plumbers and teachers who encountered the material in 1960s schools.

'Careful reflection'

The changes to no-win, no-fee in England and Wales - contained in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill - will prevent lawyers claiming "success fees" from the losing side.

Instead, it will see them receive a share of the compensation given to their own client - up to a maximum of 25% of the total pay-out.

Mr Djanogly said there had been "careful reflection about the special case of mesothelioma sufferers", and a delay would now be imposed.

He also said the government was looking at ways of making it easier for sufferers and their solicitors to trace their former employer's insurers.

He told the Commons: "The government is committed to action on this point.

"We are working closely with insurers and other stakeholders on this pressing issue, with a view to making an announcement on this issue by this July."

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan welcomed the concession: "The key question here is should victims of industrial diseases like mesothelioma have to hand over part of their damages to their lawyers and insurer, or should the wrongdoers fund the cost of the successful litigation?

"Someone suffering this horrible disease is not making up their cancer to make a quick buck. They cannot possibly be part of the compensation culture."

Conservative MP Tracey Crouch also welcomed the move, saying: "It is not right to put victims of an extraordinary disease, where no fraud is possible and compensation is certain, into a situation where in their last few months of life they are being forced to shop around for a lawyer in order to pay the least amount of success fees."

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