Bannister v Freemans Plc [2020] EWHC 1256 (QB) (Part 1 of 3)

Today is the first instalment in a three-part series of blog posts on Bannister v Freemans Plc, a decision of Geoffrey Tattersall QC (sitting as a Judge of the High Court) handed down on 19 May 2020. The trial was heard over three days from 16 to 18 May 2020, probably the last asbestos trial to be heard before the country entered into lockdown.

Michael Rawlinson QC kindly agreed to write a piece on the case for this blog with the assistance of Samuel Cuthbert, a pupil at 12KBW. What they have produced is a little longer than our usual posts, so we are going to publish it in three parts starting today and continuing tomorrow and Thursday.

Today’s instalment sets out a full summary of the facts and considers the orthodox approach to evidence in low dose mesothelioma cases. In part 2, Mike introduces the concept of the “iron triangle” and the relationship between breach of duty, exposure and causation. In part 3, he considers the use of epidemiology.

First, a very brief introduction to the case for those who have yet to read it. It was alleged by the Claimant that her husband died of mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos dust following asbestos removal carried out at his place of work in the early 1980s. It was conceded by the Defendant that if asbestos exposure was proved as alleged, breach of duty would be established. However causation was disputed, the Defendant arguing that the alleged exposure did not constitute a “material increase in risk”, i.e. it failed to meet the modified causation test which applies in mesothelioma cases following the House of Lords’ decision in Fairchild.

The Judge found on the facts that the Deceased had not been exposed to asbestos dust as alleged and accordingly the claim failed. However, the Judge went on to consider the causation question notwithstanding this finding. As Mike explains, this gave rise to some interesting evidential and legal analysis.

This analysis should be read with the following in mind:

  1. It is obiter, the Judge having found that the allegation of asbestos exposure was not made out.
  2. The Judge’s obiter finding on the extent of the asbestos exposure was that the cumulative dose would have been “in the region of no more than 0.0004 fibre/ml years”, i.e. extremely low.
  3. The Judge’s obiter finding in respect of causation was founded on the specific expert medical evidence in the case.

Over to Mike.


A:        Introduction

I should make clear at the outset:

(a) I am immensely grateful for the close collaboration and hard work of Samuel Cuthbert (one of our pupils at 12KBW) in the construction of this piece.

(b) Although this is being drafted within the period of time during which a notice of appeal could still be filed, I have not asked the Counsel team representing the family (namely Harry Steinberg QC and Gemma Scott) whether the same is contemplated and, if so, on what basis. This blog piece represents the views of Sam and me and, insofar as we detect heterodoxy within the Judgment (and, respectfully, we most certainly do) they should not be necessarily imputed to the trial Counsel team.

Low dose mesothelioma claims form an ever-greater proportion of the workload of any asbestos lawyer. When, therefore, a decision of the High Court is handed down dealing with issues of proof and causation and particularly where the Court had the benefit of full submissions from two silks highly experienced in the area, it commands careful consideration. The judgment of Mr Geoffrey Tattersall QC (sitting as a Judge of the High Court) in Bannister v Freemans plc [2020] EWHC 1256 (QB) is just such a decision. The need to analyse it with care is heightened further by some of the commentary it has attracted so far. One commentator has been moved to opine that “It should promote a more scepticalapproach” to the evidence of victims. This is, of course, wrong.

If brevity is the soul of wit, then, once again, I shall show myself to be witless. This piece is necessarily long. It is right therefore that I provide an executive summary at once.

(a) So far, at least, this is a first instance judgment which sits within the framework of the common law in respect of personal injury generally and mesothelioma claims in particular, as handed down by the appellate Courts. Any expressions of law contained within it must be construed accordingly

(b) The ratio of the decision is purely factual: on the facts, the family did not prove that the victim had been exposed to asbestos fibres at all during the course of his employment with the Defendant (“D”)[1]. All else is simply obiter.

(c) The judgment contains no warrant for a general approach whereby the evidence of victims (often given in the context of nil disclosure from D and always in respect of relative mundane matters occurring several decades prior) should be treated automatically with scepticism. The proper approach is to evaluate all the evidence before the Court neutrally, to test it for what may fairly be accepted either as to primary fact or reasonable inference and then apply to it the usual burden and then standard of proof.

(d) The Judge appears to have resolved the issue of what constitutes an exposure which materially increases the level of risk of developing mesothelioma by the adoption of a test suggested by a medic, namely a level of dose above that which  “… a medical practitioner who is aware of the medical risks would define as something that the average patient should not worry about” [168] (emphasis added). Perhaps unsurprisingly the medic’s formulation of the answer includes a frank error of law – namely the failure to take into account either the ‘eggshell skull’ rule (Smith v Leech Brain & Co Ltd) or the ‘crumbling skull’ rule (Environment Agency v Ellis/Athey v Leonati) (in the form of the known existence of genetic susceptibility of certain people to asbestos giving rise to mesothelioma). Perhaps more surprisingly, the test promulgated by the medic seems to not have been thought through as to how it would ever have been applied in practice.

(e) The Judge was led by D’s concession that if the facts alleged could be proven they constituted a breach of duty, into considering only (a) the issue of whether (and, if so, to what degree) exposure had occurred – proof of exposure and (b) whether such exposure (if proven) materially increased the risk of mesothelioma – proof of individual causation. In this, he concentrated on two sides of a triangle, but not the third, namely the test for breach. It is true that he briefly cites a short passage from Lord Phillips in Sienkiewicz on breach [107 of the Judgment in Sienkiewicz] and [27] of the Judgment in Bannister, but he rather skates over at [32] the role of material increase in creating a ‘foreseeable risk’ which is the essence of the proof of breach at common law in mesothelioma cases. Hence with respect, he did not fully express within the judgment an appreciation of how this third side of the triangle creates an iron logic in post 1965 cases which employers cannot evade by reference to some pseudo-objective test for de minimis. I return to the nature and effect of this ‘iron triangle’ in part 2.

In short therefore, the Judge’s obiter analysis of what constitutes material breach is contrary to appellate decisions eschewing objective dividing lines howsoever devised, ignores Hughes v Lord Advocate and the presence of genetic susceptibilities as a confounding factor when seeking to use epidemiology as a disproof of individual causation.

I approach the matter by summarising the case and then seeking to analyse where commentary on behalf of the insurance industry is not justified, and where the Judge’s obiter reasoning went awry.

B:        Summary of the Judgment

Dennis Bannister (“the Deceased”) died of malignant mesothelioma after a prolonged illness. The claim was brought by his widow, Valerie Bannister (“the Claimant”) and alleged that he had been exposed to asbestos whilst working as a manager in the accounts department under the employment of Freemans Plc (“D”). The allegation of exposure was that a partition wall had been removed from the Deceased’s office over the course of a weekend, following which the Deceased was exposed to a residue of asbestos dust in his office which was cleaned up over the course of a matter of days by the cleaners. As we have seen from the above summary it was admitted that, if proven to be asbestos, such exposure was tortious.

Evidence was given by the Deceased’s former colleague, Mr Ford. Mr Ford had met with the Deceased following the Deceased’s diagnosis, and reminded him both of the removal of the partitions and that a memo had been issued by the Defendant identifying and warning of the presence of asbestos containing infill panels. Expert engineering evidence was provided by Mr Raper for the Claimant and Mr Stear for D. Expert medical evidence was provided by two respiratory physicians; Dr Rudd for the Claimant and Dr Moore-Gillon for D. D denied that the dust contained asbestos and, in the alternative, that any exposure amounted to no more than non-actionable de minimis amounts.

The Judge outlined that, in making his findings of fact, there was need for particular care as regards the accuracy or reliability of the evidence of lay witnesses in historic disease claims. Such principles are derived from the dicta in Kimathi v Foreign and Commonwealth Office [2018] EWHC 2066, Gestmin SPGS SA v Credit Suisse (UK) Limited [2013] EWHC 3560 and Sloper v Lloyds Bank Plc [2016] EWHC 483. The Judge made three preliminary findings:

  • He drew an adverse inference as to the Deceased’s credibility (NB not honesty: credibility) from his denial of exposure to asbestos to treating medics on 3 separate occasions
  • Further, the Deceased’s evidence was largely prompted by Mr Ford’s recollection of the memo;
  • But for Mr Ford reminding the Deceased in early 2018 of the existence of the memo or the removal of the partition containing asbestos, the Deceased had no independent recollection of being exposed to asbestos.

The Judge found that, on balance, a memo was sent to the Deceased and that it referred to the infill panels in the partition being removed as having contained asbestos. He then went on to conclude that having identified the presence of asbestos and having sent a memo about the same it was probable that D also would have appreciated the need to engage a specialist contractor to undertake the removal of the asbestos with the appropriate precautions pertaining.

The Judge found that only the infill panels of the partition had been removed and not the central panels. He found that the infill panels were removed the weekend immediately after the memo was circulated to the Deceased. This would have created dust, and it is possible that the Deceased could then have been exposed to asbestos dust upon arriving back to work. However, the process of replacing the infill panels with non-asbestos material would also have created dust free from asbestos.

The Judge found overall that the Deceased was more likely to have been exposed to non-asbestos dust from a different but related process when he told Mr Ford that he could taste dust in his mouth (which was taken as an evidential token of having been exposed to some dust). Overall therefore on the facts the Deceased failed.

The Judge then turned to his obiter considerations. He went on to consider what the Deceased’s exposure would have been had he found that the Deceased was so exposed. He asked himself (i) how a court should assess the Deceased’s exposure and, (ii) what in law constitutes a material increase of the risk of the Deceased developing mesothelioma?

 The Judge recognised that the experts’ calculation of the cumulative dose has a limited value, albeit that it does have some value. Pursuant to the dicta of Aikens LJ in Williams, the Judge sought to make findings as to the Deceased’s actual level of exposure to asbestos, whilst accepting that this might be imprecise. The two experts, after cross examination, settled on very similar dose estimates such that they were effectively in agreement as to the Deceased’s cumulative exposure to asbestos. In any event the Judge preferred the evidence of the Mr Stear, given that Mr Raper’s estimates for both the lower and upper ends of exposure did not withstand close scrutiny. The Judge therefore found “in round terms”, in line with Mr Stear’s evidence that the Deceased’s exposure was no more than 0.0004fibre/ml years.

It was held that the test of causation is one of mixed fact and law because any assessment by the court had to reflect what test to apply in the assessment of the risk and what weight to give to epidemiological evidence. Following Sienkiewicz v Grief (UK) Ltd [2011] UKSC 10, what constitutes a material risk must be for a judge on the facts of the particular case. The Judge found the test set in Sloper v Lloyds Bank Plc [2016] EWHC 483 (QB) was an appropriate means of determining material increase in risk:

“a dose of asbestos which was properly capable of being neglected could be defined as a dose which a medical practitioner who is aware of the medical risks would define as something that the average patient should not worry about.”

The Judge preferred the evidence of Dr Moore-Gillon because he had attempted to evaluate the significance of the cumulative dose at 1 in 50 million, subsequently describing the increase in risk as “vanishingly low”. Dr Rudd’s evidence was criticised for not assessing the level of risk created by any exposure to asbestos whilst the Deceased was in the Defendant’s employment, and for “straining logic” regarding an annual risk of 1 in 50 million as a material increase.

The Judge rejected the submission that it would be an unusual situation where an exposure to asbestos which constituted a breach of duty was deemed not to be a material increase in risk. This was deemed to erroneously conflate breach and causation. Instead, the judge found that the burden was on the Claimant to show, on a balance of probabilities, that any exposure to asbestos suffered by the Deceased in the course of his employment by the Defendant gave rise to a material increase in the risk of the Deceased developing mesothelioma. Given the Judge’s preference for Dr Moore-Gillon’s evidence, it was found that such burden was not discharged and any exposure would have been de minimis.

 In sum, it was held on the balance of probabilities that the Deceased was not exposed to asbestos dust during his employment by the Defendant. In any event, had such exposure been proved, it did not represent a material increase in the risk of the Deceased developing mesothelioma.

C:        Comment

C1. The approach to evidence

 This requires consideration in respect of both lay and expert evidence separately.

Lay evidence:

(a) It is possible to spill a considerable amount of ink considering to what degree Gestmin principles should be applied outside of commercial litigation (in which usually there is a plentiful substrate of contemporaneous documentation) and personal injury claims. Doubt has been expressed in this regard in at least one decision of the High Court (CXB v North West Anglia NHS Trust [2019] EWHC 2053 QB) (but it is readily accepted that equally there are other Courts which have accepted its application in such cases).

(b) However, it is never more than an approach: to elevate into an evidential principle that lay evidence must always give way to written evidence, or that long term memory being relied upon by a witness is inherently unsafe owing to the passage of time takes matters too far. First, insofar as such a purported principle was to be justified on the grounds that there is a growing realisation that Judges as a body are no better interpreters of human fallibility and recall than any other interlocutor (which is often the justification) then I am afraid the medical, sociological and empirical underpinnings of such an assertion would become fair game and relevant issues of proof in any low level case. This cannot be right.

(c)  Second, it would create an exquisite trap for any victim: if they gave general evidence about what happened in a mundane factory 40 years ago, D would argue ‘ah, the lack of detail betokens want of real recall’. Conversely, if the victim gave an account in which there were elements of vivid detail, D would respond ‘ah, that detail is an after-acquired trick of the memory which betokens that the victim’s evidence is unreliable’.

(d)  The Judgment in Bannister itself records:

  1. Moreover, although Mr Steinberg stated that Lord Rodger`s dicta in Sienkiewicz were simply ‘a reminder that the relaxation of the causation test did not apply to or eliminate the other ingredients of tortious liability’, I am satisfied that such dicta and the other judicial observations in KimathiGestmin and Sloper , whilst in no way binding on me, are important as a helpful and cautionary general guide to evaluating oral evidence and the accuracy or reliability of memories and I do not propose to allow the Defendant, in Mr Steinberg’s words ‘to convert one of the inherent difficulties in asbestos litigation – the inevitably long latency periods of the disease – into its first line of defence.’

(e)  Thus there is no warrant from this Judgment for the D commentary promulgated online that victims’ evidence should be viewed sceptically as a species. D’s protection is that the burden lies on the victim to prove all elements of his case and to do so on the balance of probabilities. In looking at the evidence, the Court will take all relevant aspects into account. This may be other lay evidence presented by either side; this may be contemporaneous or subsequent documentation; this may include expert comment where such evidence is relevant and admissible. It will be a matter for the Judge to sift and give such weight to each element of the evidence as she deems proper. D should recall however, that where the only evidence is that of the victim themselves, the minatory words of the Court of Appeal in Brett v University of Reading per Sedley LJ:

where the evidence points neither way a straw in the wind may be decisive” (see also Hughes v Liverpool City Council, The Times 30   March 1988 per May LJ where he said “The onus was on the plaintiff to make out her case. If there had been only a scintilla of evidence called on her behalf tending to support the fourth inference to which I have referred, then in the absence of any contrary evidence, because no witness was called for the defendants, the judge would have been entitled to find even that scintilla sufficient to make out the plaintiff’s claim”.

Expert evidence:

(a)  The Judge effectively accepted a ‘back calculation’ regarding the level of exposure to asbestos which the Deceased experienced and did so by reference to figures suggested by D’s engineer. He did so:

  • Having determined as a matter of law that he was required to make findings of fact as to the level of exposure (citing and following Aikens LJ in Williams v University of Birmingham – who said that that was indeed the task of the Court; citing and not following Maurice Kay LJ in Cox v Rolls Royce to the contrary effect that no specific finding was necessary beyond a general finding that it was material [153-157]); and
  • Having acknowledged that the experts evidence had ‘limited’ value [151].

(b)  With respect to the Learned Judge, he appears not to have taken full consideration of Bussey.

  • First, he did not cite, nor apparently have in mind, the cautionary words of Underhill J about the exercise undertaken of ‘back calculation’ of dose by experts:

“[62] …Attempting to answer the issue in this case by comparing back-calculations (it might be fairer to say ‘back-guesstimations”) of Mr Bussey’s exposure against subsequently published figures of the kind appearing in TDN 13 is in my view unsound.”

It matters not whether the purpose of the Court was to test the level of exposure against a document such as TDN 13 or for the purpose of determining whether or not a ‘material’ risk had been created, the whole exercise is unsound and should not be undertaken to the point where experts are providing apparently detailed figures or even ranges.

  • Why? Because of the old computing acronym GIGO ‘Garbage In Garbage Out’. Such ranges/values are usually calculated using an evidence stock of an impressionistic history contained in lay witness evidence. At best the experts then seek to draw on analogies of exposure with the closest studies which ever measured such exposure. However, measurement did not become a precise science until instrumentation in the 1970s became available.
  • The preponderance of appellate authority (Bussey/Cox) is against the making of a precise finding of exposure because such precision is spurious when compared to the likely accuracy actually achieved. This is the practical reason why such exercises should not be undertaken. The deeper, structural reason why this should be so will be addressed in part 2, tomorrow.

Gregory v H J Haynes Ltd [2020] EWHC 911 (Ch): Balancing prejudice, tracing insurers and s33 of the Limitation Act

This article was originally posted on the 12kBW website but we are re-posting here in case you missed it the first time around. It was written by John-Paul Swoboda and Lynn Yeates of Novum law. They acted for the  successful Claimant in this appeal against a decision to refuse to disapply section 33 of the Limitation Act in a pleural thickening claim.

This claim was, on the claimant’s own case, nearly 6 years out of time. Bearing in mind that a decision under section 33 is an evaluative judgment, such that, as Mann J put it, it “should be impeached only if it betrays an error of principle, takes into account an irrelevant factor or fails to take into account a relevant one” (para 6 of the judgment) it might be thought that any appeal would be difficult to sustain. But the sense of injustice which drove this appeal was that the learned judge below (District Judge Ball, exercising the jurisdiction of a circuit judge) weighed in the scales, when making his s33 decision, a period of time over which neither Mr Gregory nor his solicitors at the time had any control. Namely the period of time when no insurer could be traced against the defunct and dissolved Defendant company[1]. That period accounted for 3 out of the 6 years beyond the limitation period and 6 out of the 9 years from Mr Gregory’s date of knowledge which is to say a significant proportion of the period of delay in prosecuting the action. It was only by luck that the solicitor then instructed by Mr Gregory identified the insurer when he did in 2014 as an employer’s liability tracing office (‘ELTO’) search in respect of a different client revealed the material insurer in Mr Gregory’s claim.

Mann J found “I do not consider that the claimant could be in any way to blame for the delay in this period, and that it was wrong [of the judge below] to characterise the delay as culpable on the part of the claimant” (para 10). As Mann J noted the Defendant was dissolved at the time (such that proceedings would have been a nullity), and any attempt at restoration would have been futile as the Defendant was penniless.

But just because it was shown that the decision below was wrong does not necessarily mean that a different conclusion ought to be reached when the decision is retaken. Mann J set out the passage from Carroll v Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police [2014] 4 WLR 1 (CA) in which the Master of the Rolls set out the key principles in a section 33 trial. As the MR noted in Carroll “the essence of the proper exercise of the judicial discretion under section 33 is that the test is a balance of prejudice…”. Mann J agreed with the judge below that there had been an inexcusable delay in the prosecution of the claim after the insurer had been traced (a period of about 3 years). But delay does not equate to prejudice and at para 25 Mann J found (as the judge below had also found) that all the prejudice had effectively been accrued prior to 2014 which is to say before the period of culpable delay in prosecuting the claim. Further Mann J found, as the judge below had also found, that a fair trial was still possible. These findings were sufficient for him to reach the conclusion that the claim should be allowed to proceed.

In a parting shot to any who may read this judgment as endorsing a lax approach to bringing a personal injury claim within the limitation period Mann J stated, “it will normally behove a claimant who discovers a late claim to get on with its pursuit. Even if things are so delayed already that additional delay does not cause any identifiable prejudice, a claimant cannot expect to delay as long as he/she likes on that basis. There will come a point at which the claimant’s own delay… will make it unfair to extend the period” (para 32)

[1] In fact, the Defendant had been restored to the Companies Register to allow a different action to proceed.

Cowley v LW Carlisle & Company Ltd [2020] EWCA Civ 227

This post is written by Spencer Turner. It provides a useful summary of Cowley, which was a NIHL claim rather than an asbestos case, but is of obvious and direct relevance to asbestos practitioners. It examines the principles set down in Peaktone v Joddrell, and the consequences of a failure to restore a company to the register prior to the commencement of proceedings.

In Cowley the Claimant brought a claim for noise induced hearing loss. The Defendant sought to strike out the claim on the basis that the Claimant had failed to restore the defendant company to the register prior to starting proceedings. The Defendant’s application submitted that, as a result of the failure to restore the company, the proceedings were a nullity and the court should either (i) make a declaration under CPR 11 that it had no jurisdiction to hear the claim, or (ii) strike out the claim pursuant to CPR 3.4(2)(c).

At first instance, the Claimant argued that the proceedings had been properly served on the Defendant at its last known place of business and that an order restoring the company to the register would validate that service retrospectively. The Claimant sought to rely on the judgment of Peaktone v Joddrell [2012] EWCA Civ 1035 and advance the position that proceedings served on a company which had been dissolved were retrospectively validated on the company later being restored to the register. Crucially, the Claimant failed to explain what steps had been taken to restore the Defendant to the register and did not give any evidence as to the reasons why the Defendant company had not been restored at the time of the application. The District Judge held that the court would only allow a claim to proceed against a company that existed and would only correct errors in procedure where there was imminent restoration. The matter was struck out, but the judge did not make a declaration as to whether the court accepted or declined jurisdiction.

The decision was appealed. On appeal, HHJ Rawlings found that the District Judge had not decided the matter on the basis of an absence of jurisdiction under CPR 11 but that he had acted instead pursuant to the strike out power under CPR 3.4. He found that, whether or not a jurisdictional challenge might have been made, it remained open to the court to exercise its case management powers to strike out a claim on the basis that the purported defendant did not exist and no sensible steps had been taken on the Appellant’s behalf to procure the company’s restoration to the register. The judge then found that, under CPR 3.4, the District Judge had exercised that discretion and had not erred in principle in making the order that he did.

On appeal to the Court of Appeal the Claimant argued that the District Judge had been wrong to strike out the claim under CPR 3.4 in a case where the proper challenge was under CPR 11 and the provisions of that rule had not been complied with.

The Court of Appeal rejected the Claimant’s arguments concluding that:

‘The District Judge had this action before him, involving a number of defendants. He was entitled to consider how best to progress it in the exercise of his case management powers. In our judgment, therefore, he was entitled to consider whether the overriding objective was properly served by the continued presence in the action of the name of a non-existent company. He was entitled to consider whether he should exercise the power to strike out the claim purportedly brought against LWC and he did not err in principle in making the strike out order that he did for the short reasons that he gave. The good reasons for making that order were also properly articulated by Judge Rawlings.’

The judgment in Cowley recognises that, whilst Peaktone provides Claimants with the opportunity to ensure that technical failures surrounding the restoration of a company to the register can be remedied, there is a risk of strike out where there is no imminent restoration of the company or if the Claimant cannot show what steps have been taken in pursuit of a restoration.

The Court of Appeal also provided a helpful non-prescriptive set of suggestions for parties to consider in similar cases:

  • The insurer should notify the Claimant that the insured company is dissolved. The insurer should the invite a restoration application and a further application to stay the main claim in the meantime.
  • If the Claimant fails to respond, the insurer should invite the court to stay the proceedings of its own motion.
  • Once a stay has been imposed if the Claimant fails to restore the insured company to the register after a ‘sensible time’, a request should be made to the court to strike out the Claimant’s claim as against the insured company.

Bereavement: What Price, Life?

Thanks to Helen Waller for this update on the forthcoming changes to bereavement awards.

From 1 May 2020, bereavement damages awarded under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, s.1A(3), will increase to £15,120 for causes of action that accrue from that date (see the variation order here).

The Government has described bereavement awards as being “a token payment payable to a limited group of people” (at para 18 of the Government Response to the JCHR, here), a choice of words that perhaps comes across as a little uncharitable. Yet, as a “token payment”, it’s hard at first to see why the Government has, over the years, chosen such precise figures. However, a little digging in the historical legislation reveals that the sum was initially £7,500 and remained so until 2002. From then it increased to £10,000, thereafter in 2008 and 2013 it was ostensibly increased in line with inflation to £11,800 and £12,980 respectively. The power to vary the statutory sum remains vested in the Lord Chancellor.

Aside from the sum awarded, problems with bereavement damages remain. In 2017 the Court of Appeal declared the current regime incompatible with the ECHR in the case of Smith v Lancashire Teaching Hospitals [2017] EWCA Civ 1916. The Court held that bereavement awards should be extended to cohabitants who had been in a relationship for 2 years or more. A draft Remedial Order has been proposed by the MoJ to address this. It and the Government response can be found here. The proposed extension would clearly have significant implications for unmarried, but cohabiting, asbestos claimants. However, the proposal is moving through the non-urgent procedure and in the current climate of Covid-19 its progress may be hindered.

20 March 2020: a significant date for landlords and tenants

This post was written by James Beeton a few weeks ago with a view to being published on 20 March 2020, a date which is significant for reasons which James explains. The post was written before the Covid-19 situation had become as serious as it is now. We wish all of our readers the very best in this difficult period.

Asbestos disease claims by tenants against their landlords are not straightforward. In many cases, the written documents setting out the terms of the relevant lease may no longer be available due to the passage of time. This poses obvious practical difficulties for tenants who want to argue that their exposure to asbestos on the property was due to a breach of a term of the lease. They will usually have to put their case in this way because the landlord does not generally owe a tortious duty of care for dangerous features of the leased property: Cavalier v Pope [1906] AC 428.

Tenants under short-term (less than seven-year) residential tenancies can reasonably say that their lease must have included the statutorily implied obligation to keep the “structure and exterior” of the property in good repair pursuant to s. 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 (or its substantively identical predecessor, section 32(1)(a) of the Housing Act 1961). But, even assuming that the relevant feature was part of the “structure and exterior”, does the failure to prevent the natural deterioration of asbestos-containing materials over time constitute a lack of repair (which is covered by s. 11) or is it just a failure to “make safe” a dangerous existing feature of the property (which is not covered)? This question has not been tested and it is likely to be controversial.

Given this uncertainty, 20 March 2020 is – or, at least, eventually will be – a significant date for asbestos practitioners. The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 came into force on 20 March 2019. This amended the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 at ss. 9A and 9B to provide that homes let under short-term tenancies have to be fit for human habitation at the start of the tenancy and must remain so throughout the duration of the tenancy. The obligation also covers common parts of the building in which the landlord has an interest. A home which contains deteriorating asbestos is unlikely to be regarded as fit for human habitation: see the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (England) Regulations 2005, sch. 1, para. 4. The significance of 20 March 2020 is that it marks the end of a grace period for landlords in respect of short-term leases entered into before that date. All premises let under short-term leases must now be reasonably fit for human habitation.

A similar provision applies in Wales, but only where the rent is below limits which are so low that it is unlikely to have any practical application: Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, s. 8. Protections equivalent to those in England are set out in the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016, s. 91, but they have not yet been brought into force.

SARAH WITHAM (as Executrix of the Estate of Neil Witham (Deceased)) v STEVE HILL [2020] EWHC 299 (QB)

Steven Snowden QC and John Paul Swoboda appeared on behalf of the Claimant in this matter.

Neil Witham died at the age of 55 from mesothelioma leaving behind his wife (the Claimant) and his two foster children. At the heart of the dispute between the parties in this case was the width and breadth of the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 and the proper method to quantify the dependency if it fell within the scope of the Act.

The matter came before Mr Anothony Metzer QC, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, to determine the issue of quantum. Neil (the deceased) and Sarah (the Claimant) had, long prior to Neil’s development of mesothelioma, decided to foster two children, a biological brother and sister (A and B) who both had disorders on the autistic spectrum. Although A and B attended school it was necessary for one parent to look after the children as their sole occupation (and this was a condition of the fostering agreement with the local authority). Neil was to be the carer so that Sarah could pursue her rewarding and challenging career as a specialist paediatric diabetes nurse. As a result of Neil’s untimely death, caused by the Defendant’s negligence, Sarah gave up work so as to look after her foster children. As a result, she lost her career. The principle question for the court was whether this loss was a dependency within the meaning of the Fatal Accident’s Act with it being argued for the Claimant that there was a recoverable dependency (albeit with unusual factual circumstances) whereas that Defendant argued the claim advanced was beyond the scope of the Act and was an illegitimate attempt to bypass the fact that the foster children were not recognised dependants as defined in the Act.

Mr Metzer QC, having considered the authorities cited, accepted that section 3(1) of the Act, which defines recoverable dependency, was“a wide gateway and if the dependant can establish that pecuniary loss resulted from the death then that would meet the requirements…”. He further found that the dependency was the Claimant’s and was not an illegitimate ‘relabelling’ of A and B’s irrecoverable dependency. In this regard he accepted that even though A and B were involved in the dependency (as the care Neil would have provided was to them) it was nevertheless the Claimant’s loss and not A and B’s: the children in fact suffered no loss as their foster mother (the Clamant) replaced the care provided by their deceased foster father, and that when looking at the reality of the situation the court was entitled to consider a pecuniary loss suffered by all members of the family even though some of the members of the family might not be recognised dependants. Finally the judge rejected the submission that the Claimant’s loss was a loss ‘incidental’ to the relationship of husband and wife as he found Sarah and Neil did not foster A and B for business reasons, nor for the state funds which were paid upon fostering, but rather as a family decision, which is to say it was a decision they made as a husband and wife acting in the capacity as a husband and wife.

When valuing the dependency, the judge decided to use the cost of replacement care of the services Neil would have provided, rather than the Claimant’s lost earnings, as the measure of the loss. It was in issue whether the dependency should be valued by adopting the commercial rate for replacement care or whether there should be a 25% discount to the commercial rate. The judge accepted that the situation under the Fatal Accidents Act is different to that where an injured Claimant receives care on a gratuitous basis from family or friends. The former involves a valuation of the services provided by the deceased, which is to be done by reference to the commercial rate and does not require the valuation of the services now provided (which is what is done in a PI claim where there is a discount typically of 25% where the care is provided gratuitously). The judge found support for this approach in the authorities, particularly Knauer v MOJ [2014] EWHC 2552 and Daly v General Steamship Navigation [1981] 1 WLR 120. Houscroft v Burnett [1986] 1 All ER 332 CA was distinguished as a) Daly (supra) was not cited and b) it was a PI case to which different principles applied.

On this basis the learned judge made an award of £929,857.22. The Defendant was refused permission to appeal by the judge. It is not known whether the Defendant will seek to renew their application for permission to appeal before the Court of Appeal.

The Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931 and s. 47/63 Factories Acts

This post is by James Beeton.

It is commonly pleaded by claimants in asbestos litigation that their work in a factory was covered by both the Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931 and s. 47/63 of the Factories Acts. I have never seen a defence question the assumption that both sets of statutory provisions can in principle cover the same work. But that assumption may not be right.

This suggestion is of limited practical importance, since a defendant who would have been liable under s. 47/63 Factories Acts will usually also be liable under the Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931. But it will be relevant in at least one situation: namely, where a case falls within the exemption from liability in the Preamble to the Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931, which applies where no person was employed for eight hours or more in any week in the part of the factory in which the asbestos processes were carried out.

Franklin v The Gramophone Company Ltd [1948] 1 KB 542 dealt with the Grinding of Metal (Miscellaneous Industries) Regulations 1925. These were originally made under s. 79 Factory and Workshop Act 1901 but were continued in force under s. 159 of the Factories Act 1937. In this respect, their legislative history mirrors the Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931.

The Grinding Regulations covered listed processes involving the grinding and glazing of “metals”, a term which was not defined (but which did not include “gold, platinum, or iridium”). Similarly, the Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931 covered processes listed in the Preamble involving “asbestos”, defined in broad terms as “any fibrous silicate mineral, and any admixture containing any such mineral, whether crude or crushed or opened.”

Both sets of Regulations applied to factories and workshops to which the Factory and Workshop Act 1901 (and later, the Factories Act 1937) applied and provided protections against exposure to dust generated in the processes they covered.

But, in Franklin it was held that the general protection of s. 47 Factories Act 1937 was superseded by the provisions of the Grinding Regulations. Scott LJ said at pp. 551–552:

“The conclusion seems to me inescapable that the regulations No. 904 must of necessity be construed as saying to the occupier of any factory where relevant processes were conducted: “Carry these regulations out honestly and carefully and you will have complied with all the statutory requirements incumbent on you and your factory.” If so, their particular provisions must supersede the general provisions of s. 47 and be substituted for them.”

Evershed LJ said at p. 560:

“As a matter of the construction of the regulations, deemed to be made by virtue of s. 60, do they so “modify” the terms of s. 47 as to constitute an exhaustive code for those factories to which the regulations are expressed to be applicable, namely, all factories in which the grinding of metals is carried on? In my judgment, Yes.”

This meant that the defendant was able to take advantage of an exemption from liability contained in the Grinding Regulations which would not have been available had the s. 47 duty applied.

This was not an outlier decision. The same conclusion had also been reached in respect of the alleged modification of the general duty to fence “every dangerous part of any machinery” in s. 14(1) of the Factories Act 1937 by reg. 10 of the Woodworking Machinery Regulations 1922, which only prescribed a certain form of fencing for circular saws. In Miller v William Boothman & Sons Ltd [1944] KB 337, the Court of Appeal held that the introduction of the Woodworking Regulations had superseded the absolute obligation in s. 14(1).

Special regulations may preserve the application of general duties under the Factories Act 1937 where they do this expressly. So, in Quinn v Horsfall & Bickham Ltd [1956] 1 WLR 652, the Horizontal Milling Machines Regulations 1928 had a proviso saying that they did not prejudice the application of s. 10 of the Factory and Workshop Act 1901 (which became the general duty to fence dangerous machinery in s. 14(1) of the Factories Act 1937). This meant that the relevant duty under the 1937 Act was not modified by the Regulations.

A parallel may be drawn here between the substitution provisions of reg. 3(3) of the Asbestos Regulations 1969, the proper construction of which led to the conclusion that only one limb of the general duty in s. 63 of the Factories Act 1961 had in fact been superseded in Heynike v 00222648 Ltd [2018] EWHC 303 (QB). But there is no equivalent proviso in the Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931 (nor was there in the Grinding Regulations).

Although special regulations may modify the duties imposed by the Factories Act 1937, they only do so to the extent that they deal with a specific danger. In Benn v Kamm & Co Ltd [1952] 2 QB 127, the claimant was injured by a machine covered by the Horizontal Milling Machine Regulations 1928. But those Regulations only covered the cutters of the machine and not the part that had injured him. This meant that the general duty to fence off dangerous machinery under s. 14(1) Factories Act 1937 continued to apply to part of the machine that had injured him. Similarly, the exclusionary effect of the Grinding Regulations only provided an exhaustive code “for those factories to which the regulations are expressed to be applicable, namely, all factories in which the grinding of metals is carried on”. The Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931 only covered “all factories and workshops or parts thereof” in which the listed processes involving asbestos were carried on. In principle, they would not therefore cover (i) other parts of the factory or (ii) any other processes involving asbestos. These would still be covered by s. 47/63.

In conclusion:

  1. Section 47/63 does not apply to any process covered by the Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931; but
  2. Section 47/63 does not add much (if anything) to the protections in the Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931;
  3. The only obvious exception is where the Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931 provide a gap in protection which would not exist under s. 47/63 (such as the 8-hour exemption from liability);
  4. Other parts of the factory and other processes involving asbestos will still in principle be covered by s. 47/63.

Shipyards, Docks and Asbestos: The Statutory Duties

This post was written by James Beeton.


  1. Much industrial activity giving rise to exposure to asbestos occurred in docks and shipyards. Former dock workers therefore represent a significant number of those now wishing to bring claims for asbestos-related illness. In some cases, it will be possible to bring a straightforward common law claim in negligence against an occupier of the relevant area or the dock workers’ employer (or quasi-employer: see Rice v Secretary of State for Trade and Industry [2007] EWCA Civ 289).


  1. But this can raise potentially difficult issues of foreseeability of harm and the defendant’s knowledge of the risks. The alternative is to bring a claim for breach of statutory duty. The stricter nature of many of these duties means that the difficulties that can arise in common law claims may be sidestepped. But the question of precisely which duties applied historically to the different parts of docks and shipyards is a complicated one. In summary, the position is this.


Position before 31 March 1961


Location Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931 Section 47/63 Factories Acts
Shipyards and dry docks used for shipbuilding Yes (including works to or on the ship) Yes (including works to or on the ship)
Other docks, wharves, and quays Yes No
Processes involving ships in harbour or wet dock Yes No


Position from 31 March 1961


Location Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931 (until 14 May 1970) Section 47/63 Factories Acts (until 1 October 1989) Shipbuilding and Ship-repairing Regulations 1960 (until 1 October 1989) Asbestos Regulations 1969 (from 14 May 1970 until 1 March 1988)
Shipyards and dry docks used for shipbuilding Yes (including works to or on the ship) Yes (but not works to or on the ship) Yes (works to or on the ship only) Yes
Other docks, wharves, and quays Yes No No Yes
Processes involving ships in harbour or wet dock Yes No Yes (works to or on the ship only) Yes



Pre-1961: “full cover” for shipyards and dry docks


  1. Section 151 of the Factories Act 1937 contains the general definition of the expression “factory”. It also specifically lists certain premises that will automatically qualify as a “factory” for the purposes of the Act. One of these is:

“any yard or dry dock (including the precincts thereof) in which ships or vessels are constructed, reconstructed, repaired, refitted, finished or broken up” (and in which persons are employed in manual labour).

Since these premises are treated as factories in the full sense, work carried out in them was in principle subject to the key s. 47 duty to take all practicable measures to prevent the inhalation of any dust produced in a substantial quantity. Another effect of s. 151 was that regulations covering “factories” as defined by the Factories Act 1937 applied to these areas. An example is the Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931.


  1. In fact, the 1931 Regulations also applied to shipyards before the passage of the Factories Act 1937. This is because the 1931 Regulations were passed pursuant to the Secretary of State’s power to make regulations for dangerous trades under s. 79 of the Factory and Workshop Act 1901 and they applied to “factories” as defined by the 1901 Act. The old 1901 Act specifically included within its definition of a factory:


““Shipbuilding yards,” that is to say, any premises in which any ships, boats or vessels used in navigation are made, finished or repaired” (see s. 149 and Schedule 6, Part II, (25)).


  1. However, the position for shipyards and dry docks used for shipbuilding changed following the passage of the Shipbuilding and Ship-repairing Regulations 1960 (discussed below).


Pre-1961: “partial cover” for other docks, wharves, quays, and ships


  1. The Factory and Workshop Act 1901 and the Factories Act 1937 Act specifically provided that certain premises were to be treated as factories and that certain processes were to be treated as having been carried out in a factory. However, the duties which applied in these listed premises were limited (insofar as relevant) to the provisions in the relevant Parts of the Acts “with respect to Regulations for dangerous trades” or “with respect to special regulations for safety and health” respectively.


  1. Such regulations were dealt with by s. 79 and s. 60 respectively of the two Acts. These empowered the Secretary of State to make special regulations for health and safety. As mentioned above, the Secretary of State had used his power under s. 79 of the Factory and Workshop Act 1901 to make the Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931. However, the key duty to prevent the inhalation of dust contained in s. 47 of the Factories Act 1937 Act, which appears in the same “Part” of that Act as the Secretary of State’s power in s. 60, is notspecifically mentioned in the same way as the regulation-making power in s. 60. This means that the s. 47 duty did not applyto the premises treated as factories which are listed below.


  1. So, what exactly did apply to those premises? With effect from 1 July 1938, the Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931 were to be treated as if they had been passed under the 1937 Act. The relevant power being contained in s. 60, this means that the 1931 Regulations did apply to the premises listed below. Further regulations made under the s. 60 power (or its successor at s. 127 of the Factories Act 1961) include the Construction (General Provisions) Regulations 1961, the Construction (Health and Welfare) Regulations 1966 and the Asbestos Regulations 1969. These regulations also applied to the premises listed below. On the other hand, the Building (Safety, Health and Welfare) Regulations 1948 specifically provided that they did not apply to docks, harbours, bridges and tunnels (see reg. 2(1)).


Position between 1931 and 1937: docks, wharves, quays, and ships


  1. Section 104 of the Factory and Workshop Act 1901 provided that the following were to be treated as included in the word “factory” for the purpose of triggering the limited duties set out above:


  • Docks;
  • Wharves;
  • Quays;
  • Warehouses; and
  • All machinery or plant used in the process of loading or unloading or coaling any ship in any dock, harbour or canal.


The person whose workmen used the machinery or plant, or who had occupation of the relevant area, was to be treated as the occupier of the “factory”.


Position post-1937: docks, wharves, and quays


  1. Section 105(1) of the Factories Act 1937 (and s. 125 of the 1961 Act) provided that the limited duties would apply to listed premises as if they were factories and the person “having the actual use or occupation of it or of any premises within it or forming part of it” would be treated as if they were “the occupier of a factory” for the purposes of that Act. The premises are:


  • Docks;
  • Wharves;
  • Quays;
  • Warehouses belonging to the owners of the dock, wharf or quay;
  • Any line or siding used in connection with and for the purposes of the dock, wharf or quay and not forming part of a railway or tramway); and
  • Every other warehouse (not forming part of a factory) in or for the purposes of which mechanical power is used.


  1. Pursuant to sections 107 and 108 of the 1937 Act (and s. 127 of the 1961 Act), the above duties also applied to listed processes involving docks and related premises, specifically “the construction, structural alteration or repair (including re-pointing and re-painting) or the demolition of any dock, harbour, inland navigation, tunnel, bridge …” (see the definition of “works of engineering construction” at s. 152(1) of the 1937 Act and s. 176(1) of the 1961 Act).


Position post-1937: ships


  1. Section 105(2) (and s. 125 of the 1961 Act) adopted a slightly different approach, already employed in the Factory and Workshop Act 1901, in stating that merely carrying out certain processes relating to ships would be treated as having occurred in a factory, with “the person who carries on those processes” being treated as the occupier of a factory. The processes were: the loading, unloading, or coaling of any ship. To qualify, these processes had to take place in “any dock, harbour or canal”. Any machinery or plant used in the processes would be treated as machinery or plant in a factory.


  1. Similar provision was made by s. 106(1) (and s. 126 of the 1961 Act) in respect of work carried out in “constructing, reconstructing, repairing, refitting, painting, finishing or breaking up a ship or in scaling, scurfing or cleaning boilers … in a ship, or in cleaning oil-fuel tanks or bilges in a ship”. These works would only be covered if they took place “in a harbour or wet dock”. Where they did, “the ship shall be deemed to be a factory, and any person undertaking such work shall be deemed to be the occupier of a factory.”


  1. But note that there is a specific exception at s. 106(2) (and s. 126(3) of the 1961 Act) where the processes listed in s. 106(1) were carried out “by the master or crew of a ship or done on board a ship during a trial run.”


Post-1961: impact of the Shipbuilding and Ship-repairing Regulations 1960


No s. 47 Factories Act 1937 protection for work to or on ships


  1. The position changed with effect from 31 March 1961, following the passage of the Shipbuilding and Ship-repairing Regulations 1960. Pursuant to reg. 2(1), these covered:


  • All works carried out in any operations of a shipyard or dry dock in respect of ships or vessels, whether or not the shipyard was part of a harbour or wet dock. The Regulations used a similar definition to that in s. 151 of the 1937 Act (by reg. 3(2)) but did not cover yards or docks where the ships were broken up.
  • Any work carried out in any of the operations in a harbour or wet dock in the case of ships (but not other vessels) excluding, amongst other things, work done by the master or crew of the ship.


The Regulations therefore did not apply to work on asbestos-lagged pipes whilst at sea (Oldman v DEFRA[2017] 4 WLUK 388 at [4]).


  1. Regulations 4(1) and 3(2) also limited the scope of the Regulations by providing that the duties were imposed on employers but only when they were undertaking the following processes:


“in relation to a ship or vessel, its construction, reconstruction, repairing, refitting, painting and finishing, the scaling, scurfing or cleaning of its boilers (including combustion chambers or smoke boxes) and the cleaning of its bilges or oil-fuel tanks or any of its tanks last used for carrying oil.”


This meant that the duties applied only to work being done to or on the ship or vessel. The Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931, which were still in force, continued in principle to apply to the same work at this time until their revocation and replacement by the Asbestos Regulations 1969 (since, unless they expressly said otherwise, the 1960 Regulations were in addition to and not in substitution of any requirements imposed by or under the 1937 Act: reg. 2(4)).


  1. However, a key effect of the 1960 Regulations was that work done to or on ships in shipyards and dry docks was no longer subject to the totality of protections under the 1937 Act. The s. 47 duty was expressly replaced with a new duty at reg. 53(1) to take all practicable measures to protect against the inhalation of dust “of such a character and to such extent as to be likely to be injurious” where the dust was given off in connection with any process carried out on board, in, or on the outside of, a vessel. Note, however, that the s. 47 duty continued to apply to work carried on in the other parts of the shipyard where it was not being done to or on the ship itself. The reg. 53(1) duty remained in force until 30 September 1989 when it was repealed by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1988. However, it was effectively superseded by the Asbestos Regulations 1969 from 14 May 1970.


Specific duties concerning asbestos processes


  1. The reg. 53(1) duty, which imported a requirement of foreseeability of harm, was in fact less strict than the s. 47 duty it replaced – a surprising (perhaps unique) example of a decrease in protections available for workers exposed to dust. But that decrease in generic protection was to an extent mitigated by the introduction of specific duties to provide breathing apparatus for listed types of work with asbestos set out at reg. 76 (at least until this provision was largely revoked a few years later by the Asbestos Regulations 1969). These often overlooked new duties in respect of the listed asbestos processes did not require foreseeability of harm, except for the last one. The works covered by reg. 76 were:


  • the application of asbestos by spraying;
  • breaking down for removal of asbestos lagging;
  • cleaning of sacks or other containers of asbestos;
  • cutting of asbestos material by portable power saws; and
  • scaling, scurfing, or cleaning of boilers and other named types of plant where the person is exposed to dust of a character and extent likely to be injurious or offensive.


Additional protections for “young persons”


  1. It is important to be aware that the narrowly defined category of “young persons” were subject to additional protections under the Regulations. Regulation 77 provided that young persons could not be employed in any of the asbestos processes covered by reg. 76. The 1960 Regulations also provided for supervision requirements in relation to all operations for persons under 16 (at reg. 80(2), until this was revoked on 16 January 1990).

Cape Intermediate Holdings Ltd v Dring [2019] UKSC 38

This blog is by James Beeton.

This morning, Lady Hale handed down the Supreme Court’s judgment in Cape Intermediate Holdings Ltd v Dring [2019] UKSC 38. The decision contains a detailed analysis of the court’s power to allow third parties access to court documents under the constitutional principle of open justice. However, the outcome is also of great practical significance for practitioners involved in claims for asbestos-related injury against the Cape group of companies (and, indeed, many other defendants).


In January and February 2017, Picken J heard evidence in a six-week trial under the name Concept 70 v Cape International Holdings Ltd. The trial involved proceedings brought against Cape by insurers who had written employers’ liability policies for employers. The employers had paid damages to former employees who had contracted mesothelioma in the course of their employment. The employers, through their insurers, then claimed a contribution from Cape on the basis that the employees had been exposed at work to asbestos from products manufactured by Cape. After the trial had ended, but before judgment was delivered, the claims were settled.

The Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK then made an application under CPR r. 5.4C, which deals with third party access to the “records of the court”, with a view to preserving and obtaining copies of all the documents used at or disclosed for the trial, including the trial bundles and the trial transcripts. The Forum considered that the disclosure was likely to have significant implications for asbestos-related claims involving the Cape group of companies, the provenance and impact of TDN 13, and broader historical knowledge arguments in respect of the asbestos industry as a whole.

First Instance

After a three-day hearing, Master McCloud held in Dring v Cape Distribution Ltd [2017] EWHC 3154 (QB) that she had jurisdiction to order that a non-party be given access to all the material sought. She therefore ordered that Mr Dring (acting on behalf of the Forum) should be provided with the hard copy trial bundle, including the disclosure documents in the parties’ core bundle, all witness statements, expert reports, transcripts and written submissions.

Court of Appeal

Cape successfully appealed this order to the Court of Appeal ([2018] EWCA Civ 1795). The Court of Appeal held that the “records of the court” for the purpose of the discretion to allow access under CPR r. 5.4C(2) were much more limited than the Master had ordered. They would not normally include trial bundles, trial witness statements, trial expert reports, trial skeleton arguments or written submissions, or trial transcripts.

The court had an inherent jurisdiction to permit a non-party to obtain certain further documents. But, importantly, there was no inherent jurisdiction to permit non-parties to obtain trial bundles or documents referred to in skeleton arguments or written submissions, or in witness statements or experts’ reports, or in open court, simply on the basis that they had been referred to in the hearing.

The Court of Appeal ordered, in summary:

  1. That the court should provide the Forum with copies of all statements of case, including requests for further information and answers (apart from those listed in an Appendix to the order);
  2. That Cape should provide the Forum with copies of witness statements, expert reports and written submissions (listed in a further Appendix to the order); and
  3. That Picken J (or some other High Court Judge) should decide whether any other document sought by the Forum was properly accessible on the basis that confidentiality had been lost under CPR r. 31.22 and the judge had read or been invited to read to read it, or that it was necessary for the principle of open justice (on the limited understanding of the court’s inherent jurisdiction set out above).

Supreme Court

Both parties appealed to the Supreme Court. Cape argued that the Court of Appeal did not have jurisdiction to make the order that it did. The Forum argued that the court should have made a wider order under CPR r. 5.4C(2).

Lady Hale, who delivered the judgment of the Supreme Court, disagreed with both parties. Not only did the Court of Appeal have jurisdiction to make the order that it did, but it also had jurisdiction to make a wider order if it were right so to do. On the other hand, contrary to the submission of the Forum, the basis of making any wider order was the court’s inherent jurisdiction in support of the open justice principle, and not CPR r. 5.4C(2).

Lady Hale considered that the open justice principle applied to all courts and tribunals exercising the judicial power of the state. It had two purposes: (i) to enable public scrutiny of the way in which courts decide; (ii) to enable the public to understand how the justice system works and why decisions are taken. The latter was particularly important given shift in modern times to reliance on purely written evidence and arguments.

The CPR were not exhaustive of the circumstances in which non-parties could be given access to court documents: they were a minimum in addition to which the court had to exercise its inherent jurisdiction under the constitutional principle of open justice.

Pursuant to that principle, the default position was that the public should be allowed access not only to the parties’ written submissions and arguments, but also to the documents which had been placed before the court and referred to during the hearing.

However, it was also necessary to balance the public interest in allowing access with other countervailing considerations, such as any risk of potential harm caused by the disclosure and any contrary practical considerations. “In short,” said Lady Hale at [47], “non-parties should not seek access unless they can show a good reason why this will advance the open justice principle, that there are no countervailing principles of the sort outlined earlier, which may be stronger after the proceedings have come to an end, and that granting the request will not be impracticable or disproportionate.”

Since Cape had not attacked the Court of Appeal’s order on its merits, the Supreme Court ordered that the Court of Appeal’s order for access to the various documents set out above would stand, but that, instead of (3) above, the case would also be sent back to a High Court judge (again, preferably Picken J) to determine whether the court should require Cape to provide copies of any other documents in accordance with the broader understanding of the open justice principles set out by the Supreme Court.

The Court of Appeal judgment therefore represents a “baseline” against which permission for access to further documents can (and no doubt will) be sought. The Supreme Court judgment is not the end of the road, but requires the High Court to consider whether further access is required pursuant to the open justice principle as described by Lady Hale. Asbestos practitioners would be well-advised to keep an eye on these proceedings once they are referred back to the High Court. It will be of significant interest to see which (if any) further documents are released.

Helm v (1) William Kenyon & Sons Ltd (2) Somewatch Ltd [2019] EWHC 1108 (QB)

This blog post is by Helen Waller. In it, she explains the recent decision of Mr Justice Turner, in which he allowed the Second Defendant’s appeal of a Master’s decision to enter judgment against it at a show cause hearing. An approved transcript of the ex tempore judgment is now available and it can be viewed here.

The show cause procedure is a feature of Practice Direction 3D which applies to mesothelioma claims. It is intended to identify at an early stage those cases in which a defendant has no reasonable prospect of maintaining a defence. Pursuant to paragraph 6.2 of the Practice Direction, at the first case management conference a defendant will be expected to show cause why a judgment on liability should not be entered against it.

It was this exercise of ‘showing cause’ that was the subject of an appeal before Mr Justice Turner in the case of Helm v (1) William Kenyon & Sons Ltd (2) Somewatch Ltd [2019] EWHC 1108 (QB).

At a show cause hearing before Master Davison, judgment was entered against both Defendants to the claim. The Second Defendant appealed against this decision. The First Defendant did not.

Turner J allowed the Second Defendant’s appeal, primarily on the basis that the Master had made an “evident mistake” in relation to the Claimant’s exposure to asbestos dust from his use of Caposite.

The Claimant alleged that was he exposed to asbestos dust from Caposite in the course of his employment with the First Defendant, but it was not apparent on the face of his written evidence that he made the same allegation in relation to the Second Defendant. However, it was clear that the Master had assumed that the Claimant did allege exposure to Caposite with the Second Defendant and had relied on this assumed exposure when entering judgment against it. Further, it was not clear that Caposite was in use at the time the Claimant worked for the Second Defendant. This error alone was sufficient to justify the appeal being allowed.

Although this was an appeal which turned on its own facts, the observations Turner J made at in relation to the show cause process at [17]-[18] are of possible wider interest:

I appreciate that the rate at which the procedure under Practice Direction 3D identifies defendants who have no real prospects of success is in the region of 95 percent. That, however, still leaves 1 in 20 in which the defendant has at least established a sufficiently strongly arguable case to escape the net. It is tempting, in cases in which there is only one defendant and only one potential employment when the claimant is exposed to asbestos, to work backwards from the established fact that mesothelioma, by and large, is overwhelmingly (not exclusively) caused by exposure to asbestos. So if there is only one defendant, then it equips the judge to say with relative confidence, all other things being equal, that there was exposure and that it is very likely, in those circumstances, that the claimant will establish liability.

In this case, however, there was exposure which the Master uncontroversially laid at the door of the first defendant which, in itself, was sufficient to provide an explanation, at least arguably, for the contracting by the claimant of the condition of mesothelioma. So this is not one of those cases in which working backwards a judge could be confident from the fact that mesothelioma was contracted that there was exposure during the course of the employment of both defendants.

For the Claimant in this case, the consequences of the appeal are likely to be limited to costs: he still has judgment against the First Defendant in respect of mesothelioma, which is an indivisible injury.