Landmark Court of Appeal success for asbestos victims

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.

This ruling reinforces key parts of an earlier decision made by Master McCloud in 2017 (Dring v Cape 2017 EWHC 3154 QB Judgment). The Forum argued that it was in the public interest that these documents be disclosed as they would help mesothelioma victims currently pursuing claims for compensation. They would also help inform the public about how one of the worst industrial scandals, resulting in the deaths of many thousands of people from asbestos-related diseases, was allowed to occur in this country. The effects of this scandal are with us today, and will be with us for many years to come, because of the long latency of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

The Forum has confirmed all along that its aim is to provide the documents to interested parties, including academics, lawyers, and members of the public, due to the highly significant and historical value of the documents.  Harminder Bains of Leigh Day Solicitors, and Rob Weir and Jonathan Butters of Devereux Chambers, acted pro bon for the Forum.

Graham Dring, Chair of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum, said:

The Court of Appeal judgment should provide access to a significant amount of documents, which Cape intermediate Holdings (Cape) have refused to disclose: documents which may assist mesothelioma sufferers and their families to claim compensation, and which may throw light on the way early knowledge of the dangers of asbestos was hidden from the public. The Forum’s application for disclosure was only made possible because our legal team represented us pro bono, confronting a company with deep pockets and access to the most expensive legal representation. The Forum and our legal team have been vindicated by this judgment and Cape should now cease their self-serving resistance to disclosure and accept this judgment in full.”

Harminder Bains said:

Paragraph 112(ii) of the judgment confirms that the Forum is entitled to copies of the documents which fall within the inherent jurisdiction, which include witness statements of witnesses of fact, expert reports, documents which have been read in open Court, documents which the judge has been invited to read in open Court, documents which the judge has been specifically invited to read outside of Court or documents which it is clear or stated that the judge has read, skeleton arguments, and written submissions.

“Cape should now accept the Forum’s entitlement to copies of the documents and put a halt to its determined effort to prevent the Forum and other judges from seeing them.  Cape is fully aware of the significance of these documents.  However, Cape seems determined to use its corporate muscle to prevent the true dangers of asbestos from coming to light.  This should be a concern not only to those involved in asbestos issues but should be a concern to all those dealing with corporate accountability.

Counsel representing the Claimants are Robert Weir QC and Jonathan Butters of Devereux Chambers.