In a statement issued by Justice Secretary Jack Straw, the Government has set out its decision on pleural plaques. As previously reported here, the House of Lords' decision in Johnston v NEI International Combustion  UKHL 39 found that asymptomatic pleural plaque claims were not compensatable under the current laws. Since then, Scotland has introduced the Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) (Scotland) Act 2009 (previously reported here) which overturned the decision in Scotland. In addition a private member's bill has been making its way through Parliament (previously reported here) in an effort to follow Scotland's lead. As a result, the Government has been under pressure to announce its intentions.
The Government's statement begins by explaining that, due to medical evidence, it is "unable to conclude that the Law Lords' decision should be overturned at this time or that an open-ended no-fault compensation scheme should be set up." Instead, the Government states that a one-off payment of £5000 will be paid to claimants who began a compensation claim for pleural plaques but who had not resolved such a claim by the time of the Law Lords' decision. No other payments will be made in relation to asymptomatic pleural plaques under the proposals.
The remainder of the decision focuses on mesothelioma claims. The Government will establish a working group to consider a variety of issues surrounding mesothelioma claims and establish a National Centre for Asbestos-Related Disease that would "advance medical research into the prevention, cure and alleviation of asbestos-related disease – primarily mesothelioma." It will also increase payments under a workers' compensation statute for mesothelioma victims. Finally, the statement refers to the Government's proposals regarding the tracing of employers' liability insurance and a fund of last resort for those who cannot trace the appropriate employers' liability insurer (previously reported here).
This statement will be met with some controversy by those who were hoping that England and Wales would follow Scotland's lead by overturning the House of Lords' decision. However, the Government's statement will be met with relief by the remainder of the asbestos claimant community as, if implemented, it will ease the burden of claiming compensation for their injuries.