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A landmark judgment* by the Supreme Court on 29th July ruled that the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK can access court documents used in a legal case against the asbestos manufacturer Cape Intermediate Holdings Limited. This follows a 2 year battle by the Forum in the courts.

The Forum would not have been able to pursue this case without the agreement of its legal team to act pro bono for the last two and a half years putting in a huge amount of unpaid work and representation in court. Our thanks go out to Harminder Bains of Leigh Day Solicitors and Rob Weir QC, Jonathan Butters and Harry Sheehan of Devereux Chambers.

The Court of Appeal today ruled (see Cape and Dring Approved judgment) that the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum (‘the Forum’) has a legitimate interest in obtaining documents that will shed light on the true knowledge of the dangers of asbestos products held by Cape Intermediate Holdings, formerly one of the largest manufacturers of asbestos products in the UK.

The Forum must be given access to numerous documents which were disclosed in an earlier case in which Cape were a defendant.

Groups representing sufferers of asbestos related diseases have welcomed reassurances given on behalf of the Government that proposals to destroy records of dissolved companies have been abandoned.

The Guardian reported in August that Companies House was planning to destroy the records of companies that had been dissolved for longer than 6 years, overturning their current policy of retaining records for at least 20 years.

This would have been disastrous for asbesos victims seeking compensation for their negligent workplace exposure to asbestos. Asbestos diseases take decades to develop, sometimes for as long as 60 years. Because of this, the negligent employer has usually gone out of business by the time a disease develops. Access to Companies House records on dissolved companies is therefore crucial for victims trying to secure justice.

The Guardian recently reported that Companies House was planning to delete millions of records it holds on dissolved companies. The proposals are to delete records older than 6 years old. There seems to be no pressing need for this, other than administrative convenience, but the consequences for asbestos victims seeking to pursue claims for compensation could be devastating.

Asbestos diseases develop many years after the asbestos exposure that caused them. For example, the average latency period before mesothelioma develops is about 35 years. In the intervening period, the employer who caused the asbestos exposure may have gone out of business. Furthermore, the person who develops the disease may not remember the name of their employer, or know whether the original employer changed its name or was a subsidiary of another company.

The Asbestos Victims Support Group’s Forum brought a judicial review challenge to the Government’s enhanced court costs which means that most mesothelioma sufferers will have to pay an average £7,500, and up to £10,000, to bring a claim for compensation.

Claimants can receive remission from paying court costs if they are on a low income and they do not have more than £16,000 in capital. Since most mesothelioma sufferers are paid approximately £16,000 in statutory compensation they would not be eligible for remission of court fees.

The Government have accepted that this was wrong and are amending the remission fee order so that statutory payments are not treated as capital. This change is effective from 3 July 2015.