The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has recently announced that people suffering from mesothelioma should not be required to use the compensation awarded to pay their court fees, which according to a MoJ spokesman was “never their intention.”

In October 2013, the Courts and Tribunals Fee Remissions Order 2013 introduced a new, single fee remission system across all courts and tribunals in the UK. The government says it is now in the process of amending the Order so that mesothelioma compensation payments are disregarded and “payments will be excluded from the capital test.”

Forced to pay

In March 2015, the MoJ imposed a 5 per cent levy on all claims over £10,000. Under the new rules, individuals pursuing a mesothelioma claim would be forced to pay a fee of around £10,000 at the start of their case.

At the same time, mesothelioma victims are also entitled to receive ‘lump sum’ payments from the government, for example, under the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (DMPS), introduced in July 2014 for eligible claimants. An average payment can be around £13,000 but the Fee Remissions Order 2013 excludes those with £16,000 under the capital test.

It seems that mesothelioma sufferers would once again be subject to further unnecessary anxiety and distress at a most critical time. Often a confirmed diagnosis of mesothelioma is made at an advanced stage in the spread of the incurable cancer. In some cases, life expectancy may only be two to six months although younger victims may survive 12 to 18 months or more.

Rightful access denied

There will be an urgent, immediate need to provide for the often intensive asbestosis treatments, including chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery, together with constant care and support. The patient will naturally be especially concerned for the subsequent financial security of a spouse and other dependents. As a result of the fees required to enter a claim, victims with a short time remaining may decide they need to retain any payments they receive and not risk their financial security.

Clearly, mesothelioma victims were to have their rightful access to pursuing justice and compensation entitlement denied because of the demand for upfront court fees they could not afford to pay. The Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK had begun to call for a judicial review, arguing that court fees breached victims’ rights to a fair trial.

Their challenge was withdrawn after the 2nd July when the Lord Chancellor said that mesothelioma sufferers would be exempt from the charges. While the amendments await to be made to the Order, the Lord Chancellor says the awards will be treated as excluded capital.

Special case for mesothelioma victims

It was only in February 2015, one month before the MoJ levy was imposed that mesothlioma victims and their families finally saw the start of compensation awarded under the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (DMPS), increased from 80 per cent to 100 per cent of average claims. When the Mesothelioma Bill was passed in January 2014, the exemption fee for a successful case had under pressure from MPS and other support groups been initially reduced from 25 per cent to 20 per cent.

Then it was announced that a Legal Aid Punishment and Sentencing of Offenders Act 2013 (LASPOA) would be introduced, which would force the claimant to pay the success fee when they win their case.

Once again the special case for mesothelioma victims had to be made when it was pointed out that a government consultation had not been given enough time for MPs to fully understand that mesothelioma cases were of a different category to standard injury claims.

With latest government projections of mesothelioma figures in the UK not peaking for at last another 20 years, it’s time that those victims still suffering from the legacy of Britain’s asbestos use and employer negligence should indeed be recognised as a different case.