Asbestos Victims’ Supreme Court Victory – Triumph for Open Justice:
A judgment handed down by the Supreme Court is being hailed as a landmark in the British fight for “transparency of the legal process” .The civil case initiated by Graham Dring in 2017 on behalf of the ‘Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK’ sought the disclosure of court case documents to individuals and organisations who were not directly involved in Asbestos Civil Litigation Court cases. Such documents which could contain vitally important information to Asbestos Campaigning Organisation, Trade Unions, Victims etc., have always in the past been restricted and kept confidential to those directly involved in the court case (Plaintiff and Defendant), for example the employer who allegedly exposed workers to Asbestos and the individual claiming Personal Injury Damages from the negligent employer.
This judgement now changes everything! The precedent it set could almost certainly be used by Asbestos Campaigners, Trade Unions, Lawyers, Victims, Researchers, concerned individuals or journalists etc., to access what in effect were previously closely guarded, secret court documents in other cases. The unanimous Supreme Court verdict of Lady Hale (President), Lord Briggs, Lady Arden, Lord Kitchin and Lord Sales in the case “Cape Intermediate Holdings Ltd v Dring” (for and on behalf of Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK) upheld the principle of public access based on the constitutional principle of ‘open justice’ and dismissed the objections by the Cape Intermediate Holdings Ltd’s powerful legal team.
Cape argued that the Court of Appeal did not have jurisdiction to make the disclosure order and if it did have jurisdiction, the disclosure order was wrong in principle. The Supreme Court Judges disagreed and said the Court of Appeal not only had jurisdiction to make the disclosure order but it also had jurisdiction to make a wider disclosure order if it were right so to do.
Graham Dring and the ‘Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK’ is now due to receive all the documents which include witness statements, experts’ reports and pleadings as originally ordered by the Court of Appeal within a matter of weeks. For the remaining documents Graham Dring will make an application to the Royal Courts of Justice where a High Court Judge will consider whether to order wider disclosure of documents and records than the Court of Appeal did.
It was made clear that the Supreme Court expected the High Court to decide the case on the basis of the principles enunciated by the Supreme Court and to determine whether the High Court should require the provision of copies of any other documents placed before the judge and referred to in the course of the trial concerned.
Considering that the Supreme Court expressed its view that the default position should be that Graham Dring be granted access not only to the parties’ written submissions and arguments, but also to the documents which have been placed before the court and referred to during the hearing, it is likely that a very large number of documents will be disclosed; as many of them detail historic knowledge held by Cape Intermediate Holdings Ltd (“Cape”) – a subsidiary of one of the UK’s former Asbestos Giants (Cape Asbestos plc) – about the Asbestos hazard and the importance of these documents to Asbestos victims and their quest for compensation and clarity could be huge.
It’s taken Graham Dring and the ‘Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK over 2 years to achieve this victory the organisation say it was worth it.
Cape Asbestos was one of the two Asbestos giants in the UK, along with Turner & Newall. Unlike Turner & Newall, Cape plc is still an active company. Their operations, and their products, have been responsible for the deaths of many people, not just in the UK but in other countries too, including miners in southern Africa. They produced Asbestolux, which many joiners and carpenters used in the UK and which still remains in thousands of buildings across the UK, in a deteriorating condition, in UK schools, homes and workplaces.
The disclosure of these documents will reveal how much Cape really knew about the dangers of Asbestos long before it became common knowledge and may show how much they kept the facts hidden and why they were allowed to get away with it. They are not just responsible for the deaths of their own workers. They caused the deaths of workers who used their products, sub-contractors doing work in their factories, wives who washed their husbands’ work clothes and people living near to their factories. Hopefully this judgement will allow a light to be shone on their behaviour.
Leigh, Day & Co (Solicitors), the lawyers representing the ‘Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK had taken out an injunction to prevent corporate documents belonging to Cape being destroyed at the conclusion of a case involving Cape and its insurers. Over the course of the last two years, the case proceeded through the High Court via the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court ending in an important victory.
The whole of the Trade Union movement will join in congratulating Graham Dring, the ‘Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK’ and Leigh, Day & Co Solicitors plus their appointed barristers in achieving this victory which will be hugely important to all Unions and Victims Groups representing Asbestos victims’ documents. We’re delighted that the Supreme Court has ruled in the favour of Graham Dring and the ‘Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK’ which took on and won against this huge Corporate Enterprise. This is a landmark decision for access to documents to non-parties and a victory for open justice. I hope it will help shed a light on all manner of issues, including the deadly asbestos industry. Cape has fought tooth and nail throughout this case to avoid the public disclosure of its documents and records.
National Health, Safety & Environment Officer