Justice 1 Committee welcomes Executive commitment to make Mesothelioma bill retrospective

11/01/2007

A bill aimed at removing the “terrible dilemma” faced by sufferers of mesothelioma, an asbestos-related disease, has been welcomed by the Parliament’s Justice 1 Committee.

As the law currently stands sufferers of mesothelioma (a cancer of the mesothemial cells) face the choice of either pursuing their own damages claim while alive or not pursuing a claim before they die to enable their relatives to benefit after their death. The bill before Parliament proposes to allow both the sufferer and their family to seek benefits.

In a stage 1 report published today, members of the committee have recommended that the Parliament agree the bill’s general principles, to ensure fairness in the award of damages to the sufferers and their families.

View the committee report

Committee convener, Pauline McNeill MSP, said:

"Mesothelioma is a terrible disease. Sufferers have, from diagnosis, an average life expectancy of 14 months. Until now mesothelioma sufferers have been placed in an invidious position. If they make a claim for damages in their own lifetime then they prevent their family from receiving recompense. If, however, they do not make a claim then they are forced to endure the last months of their lives without the additional assistance that would be available to them if they had been awarded damages.

"This legislation will remove the dilemma faced by mesothelioma sufferers, enabling both the sufferer and their family to receive fair recompense.”

In considering the bill, the committee learned of the significant number of mesothelioma sufferers who had been postponing settling their claims, so that they would be able to benefit from the terms of the legislation. Witnesses representing mesothelioma sufferers argued that the bill should apply retrospectively, so as to enable sufferers to pursue their claims now.

At the committee’s meeting on 13 December the Deputy Minister announced that the Scottish Executive would be amending the bill at stage 2, so that its provisions would apply retrospectively from 20 December 2006.

Committee Convener, Pauline McNeill MSP, conveyed the committee’s support for this amendment:

"We pursued this issue throughout the evidence sessions and are pleased that the evidence we gathered has brought about a change in the bill. We congratulate the Deputy Minister for the manner and speed with which she responded to the evidence and are pleased that those sufferers who had been postponing settling their claims until the bill came into effect, can now proceed with their claims and gain benefit in their own lifetime.”

BACKGROUND NOTES

The Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) bill was introduced in the Parliament on 27 September 2006 . It followed on from the Minister for Parliamentary Business’ announcement that the Executive intended to legislate on this issue.

It is an issue which has been of concern to the Parliament for some time and on which Des McNulty MSP lodged a Members’ bill.

The sole purpose of the bill is to remove the dilemma faced by mesothelioma sufferers, enabling both the sufferer and their family to claim for damages.

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