Legal Aid reforms ‘disgrace’

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AN MP has branded Government plans to make dying mesothelioma victims pay for legal fees out of the compensation they are awarded as a “disgrace”.

Hartlepool MP Iain Wright hit out at proposed Government reforms to scrap legal aid for victims of the industrial disease mesothelioma, a form of cancer usually caused by exposure to asbestos which affects the lungs and chest.

The town is a hot-spot for the disease due to its shipbuilding past and hundreds of people have made claims for compensation against their employers.

Hartlepool MP Iain Wright, who spoke out after the issue was debated in the House of Commons last night, said: “I think it’s a disgrace. I specifically wanted to raise this issue in the House of Commons last night. The Government’s proposals means a quarter of any damages could be paid out in legal costs.

“Hartlepool is a hot-spot for mesothelioma as a result of our ship-building past. People go through a lot of pain and anguish, not just in medical terms, but also to seek justice from negligent firms for not providing enough protective equipment and training on the handling of asbestos.”

He added: “Also for this to happen 10 days away from Workers’ Memorial Day for people who’ve died from industrial diseases, it’s just terrible. People should be entitled to everything they win from the courts. Why can’t we just have a bit of dignity and justice for these workers?”

He and other MPs vented their anger at the decision not to protect the victims from having to pay their fees out of any compensation awarded.

But despite the opposition, the amendment was over-turned by the Government by 292 votes to 256, majority 36.

During the same discussions, the Government made a U-turn on its justice reforms by making it easier for the victims of domestic violence to claim legal aid.