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Article published in The HERALD6th May 2006

Asbestos campaigners were offered ministerial support yesterday for a change in the law to give victims and their families a fairer deal on compensation.

But they have been warned there will be a lengthy delay due to a problem finding time in the Scottish Parliament to enact new legislation.

Hugh Henry, the deputy justice minister, said after a meeting in Glasgow with representatives of Clydeside Action on Asbestos that they had made a powerful case for the legislation they were seeking.

The campaigners' aim is to make it possible for mesothelioma victims to claim compensation before they die without ruling out claims by their families after they have gone.

At present the law means they have to choose one or the other, which can result in the total potential compensation being reduced by a third.

Mr Henry said legislative time was running out because of the looming Holyrood election. But he pledged: "I will go back to my ministerial colleagues, I will reflect to them the very powerful arguments made on behalf of those facing certain death.

"I hope my colleagues will then be able to look at that carefully to see whether or not it's humanly possible to make the relevant time.

"What (the campaigners) have said, and it's very hard to dispute, is why should people have to wait until their death for a financial settlement?

"These people have suffered a death sentence – why should they then have to make a further moral or financial judgment about an early settlement that would disadvantage their families? They have been through enough and I think they have made a powerful argument."

The three-month consultation period needed to enact a bill would last until September, making the end of the year realistically the soonest a law could be passed. But it would be running into a busy legislative programme with the run-up to the Holyrood elections next May.

Frank Maguire, of Thompsons Scotland, which handles many of the cases, said: "We have had a very good sign that there is going to be progress.

Someone who has mesothelioma has to ask themselves, will I claim now and lose benefits for my children and grandchildren?

This dilemma has to be taken away." He said cases settled while the victims were alive on average are settled for 33% less than if the case were settled after they have died.

A change in the law might allow a victim to claim and then let their dependants make a claim after their death – although in practice it is thought insurers might then settle a claim in one package.

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