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British Coal Compensation

Volume 702: debated on Tuesday 24 June 2008

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of the decision of (a) the Solicitors Regulation Authority not to take any disciplinary action against Avalon Solicitors upon the complaint of Geoffrey Littlewood, a claimant in the British Coal respiratory disease litigation; and (b) the declaration by the Solicitors Regulation Authority that such action was not in the public interest; and whether, in determining the public interest, the authority had regard to the income of a partner of that firm of £13 million in one year. [HL4051]

Complaints about solicitors are a matter for the Legal Complaints Service and the Solicitors Regulation Authority rather than the Government, since the legal profession is independent. The Government are therefore unable to comment on individual cases.

The Law Society has taken action to deal with the complaints and to discipline those firms of solicitors whose relationship and arrangements with claims handlers operated against the interest of clients and breached the society's rules. In January 2004 the Law Society issued a policy statement warning that taking success fees could be considered inadequate professional service and in February 2004 the chief executive of the Law Society wrote to firms conducting miners' cases drawing their attention to the policy statement.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has investigated 60 firms of solicitors in respect of their work under the Coal Health Compensation Scheme; 23 firms have been referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and the SRA has won the first four disciplinary cases heard there. To date, solicitors have refunded over £3.6 million to miners. This figure may rise as more investigations are completed.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are the dates of hearings listed before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in respect of each of the solicitors in the British Coal litigation, including Beresfords, Raleys, Wake Smith, Ashton Morton Slack, Gorman Hamilton, Lopian Wagner, Thompsons, Watson Burton and Moss Legal LLP; and whether any arrangements have been made to provide the retired miners, their widows and families with pro bono legal representation. [HL4052]

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal is an independent judicial body and as such dates of hearings listed before the tribunal are not a matter for the Government. It is open to any one to make inquiry of the tribunal as to the current position in any particular case.

As the Solicitors Regulatory Authority is the prosecuting body, it is the solicitor who would be the defendant and as such there is no role for third parties to be represented at the proceedings. However, the MoJ fully recognises the role of pro bono help for those ineligible for legal aid or unable to fund private legal provision and while it is not responsible for the provision of such help, the dedicated pro bono website www.probono.net provides information on how such help can be accessed.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

(a) what is the total number of cases dealt with by the Legal Complaints Service in the British Coal respiratory disease litigation, British Coal vibration white finger litigation and British Coal industrial deafness litigation; (b) whether any action is being taken to provide complainants with pro bono legal representation; and (c) what is their assessment of only 2 per cent of eligible claimants in the litigation having had their cases examined by the Legal Complaints Service. [HL4054]

It is our understanding that the Legal Complaints Service has received 3,507 complaints to date, of which 2,736 have been closed. This has resulted in excess of £900,000 being recovered for former miners or their relatives. The LCS accept that to date it has only dealt with a small percentage of the potential complainants, however its role is to make people aware of where they can go to complain if they believe they have a grievance against a solicitor, rather than encourage people to make a complaint.

While the MoJ fully recognises the role of pro bono help for those ineligible for legal aid or unable to fund private legal provision it is not responsible for the provision of such help. However the dedicated pro bono web site www.probono.net provides information on how such help can be accessed.

Both the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform will continue to work with the LCS, the LSCC, the Legal Services Ombudsman (LSO), coalfield MPs and other bodies, to ensure that all claimants under the coal health scheme understand their rights to redress through the LCS where deductions have been made wrongfully from their compensation awards.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether claimants represented by the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, Nottingham Region, and its claims handling company, Vendside Ltd, in the British Coal vibration white finger litigation and the British Coal respiratory disease litigation have available to them any complaints procedure concerning the deduction of administration fees from the compensation awarded by the Government. [HL4106]

Where claims have been handled by solicitors on behalf of the UDM and Vendside, complaints can be made to the Legal Complaints Service. Where Vendside handle claims, complaints including those about the deduction of administration fees should first be referred to Vendside under its complaint procedure required under the Compensation Act 2006, and then to the claims management regulator at the Ministry of Justice if the complaint cannot be resolved. However, the regulator can only consider complaints arising after Vendside became authorised as a claims management business in April 2007.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

(a) how many cases have been dealt with by the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, Nottingham Region, and its claims handling company, Vendside Ltd, in the British Coal vibration white finger litigation, British Coal respiratory disease litigation and the British Coal industrial deafness litigation; (b) which firms of solicitors represented such claimants; and (c) how many claims were dealt with by each firm of solicitors. [HL4107]

The following table shows the number of claims registered by the UDM and its handling company, Vendside Ltd, and UDM claims handled by solicitors in the British Coal vibration white finger (VWF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) litigation as at the 8 June 2008:

Claimants' Representatives

VWF

COPD

NIHL

Total

UDM / Vendside Ltd

11,522

16,586

10,410

38,518

Ashton Morton Slack LLP

5,220

4,423

844

10,487

Beresfords Solicitors

6,946

6,291

1,763

15,000

Latham and Co

0

8

0

8

Lloyd Green Solicitors

7

129

0

136

Moss Solicitors

5,187

4,513

15

9,715

Total

28,882

31,950

13,032

73,864

Additionally, BRM and Wake Smith Solicitors have handled some UDM claims. However, the department's claims handlers, Capita, have not been informed which claims have been passed from the UDM to them to handle and which were registered directly with BRM or Wake Smith by the claimant.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

(a) what is the total amount of costs repaid by claimants' solicitors to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform in the British Coal vibration white finger litigation; (b) how much remains outstanding; (c) which firms of solicitors have not repaid in full and what is the amount outstanding for each firm; and (d) whether action to enforce repayment has been taken. [HL4161]

No costs are due to be repaid in relation to the vibration white finger litigation. The response below relates to the OROS costs recovery in relation to the British Coal respiratory disease litigation.

(a) £75.9 million (including interest) has been recouped as at 13 June 2008.

(b) £5.78 million remains outstanding as at 13 June 2008.

(c) and (d) The firms that have not repaid in full are split into the following categories. Table l lists those firms that have not repaid and against which the department intends to seek judgment on the amounts shown, and interest thereafter at 8 per cent per annum.

Table 2 lists those firms with which the department has entered into separate negotiations in terms of consent orders and has agreed terms of payment.

In addition there is a further category involving a small number of firms where the department's legal representatives are in negotiation regarding the timing of repayment.

Table 1

Solicitor Name

Debt inc Interest as at 12/06/08

Ashington Denton with Bingley Dyson and Furey

£1,717.62

Barber Cartain Solicitors

£3,673.96

Barrie Y Jones and Co Solicitors

£1,705.98

BBH Solicitors

28,301.46

Black and Guild Solicitors

£710.15

Green Wood and McLean LLP

£3,901.63

McConville O'Neill Solicitors and Notaries

£285,940.23

Rhidian Davies and Co Solicitors

£696.31

£326,647.34

Table 2

Solicitor Name

Debt inc Interest as at 12/06/08

Atteys

£157,969.37

Avalon Solicitors

£2,170,566.12

Bailey Bravo Jobling Solicitors

£80,540.81

Barkers Solicitors

£17,784.17

Branton Bridge Solicitors

£11,916.84

Carr and Co Solicitors

£1,131.45

Collings Solicitors

£4,787.42

Delta Legal

£1,598,375.94

J M Skinner and Co Solicitors

£36.867.65

Ingrams Solicitors

£284,873.84

Kidd and Spoor Harper Solicitors

£43,999.67

Lloyd Green Solicitors

£35,194.40

MLM Solicitors

£167,061.54

Peace Revitt Solicitors

£12,934.43

PM Law Solicitors

£23,229.62

Recompense Solicitors

£445,708.53

Robinson and Murphy Solicitors

£2,376.55

Shaw and Co Solicitors

£1,575.63

Stuart Bell and Associates

£44,044.56

Clive Ashman Solicitors

£351.72

Thompsons Solicitors

£712.25

£5,142,002.51

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the current total amount of costs paid to the 10 highest-earning firms of solicitors under the two claims handling agreements in the British Coal litigation; and whether the figures exclude moneys offset by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform against the overpayment of costs in the British Coal vibration white finger litigation. [HL4162]

The total amount paid to the 10 highest-earning firms representing claimants under the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and vibration white finger under the coal health compensations schemes are shown in the table below as at 15 June 2008:

Claimants’ Representatives

COPD Costs Paid (£ million) *

VWF Costs Paid (£ million )

Total Costs Paid (£ million)

Thompsons Solicitors

116.6

29.3

145.9

Beresfords Solicitors

123.5

7.8

131.4

Hugh James

95.2

12.0

107.3

Raleys Solicitors

74.8

13.5

88.2

Browell Smith and Co

52.4

13.8

66.2

Mark Gilbert Morse

55.9

0.05

55.9

Avalon Solicitors

38.9

0.18

39.0

Graysons Solicitors

24.5

12.1

36.7

Watson Burton LLP

25.9

8.2

34.1

Union of Democratic Mineworkers

23.0

10.6

33.6

Figures do not add up due to rounding.

* These figures reflect the costs paid minus the amounts recovered as a result of the reduction in costs paid to solicitors for claims settled under the OROS fast track scheme.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

On what date the British Coal vibration white finger litigation is expected to conclude; and what will be the final cost of the scheme, broken down between (a) compensation paid to claimants; (b) costs paid to claimants' solicitors; (c) costs paid to defence lawyers; (d) payments made to each of their contractors; and (e) administrative and other expenditure incurred by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. [HL4163]

We expect to substantially complete the vibration white finger (VWF) scheme by autumn 2008. The anticipated final costs of the scheme, broken down as in the Question, are:

(a) compensation paid to claimants: £2.1 billion (estimated);

(b) cost paid to claimants' solicitors: £181 million (estimated);

(c) defendants’ legal cost: £47 million (estimated). This is a total figure and has not been broken down into schemes;

(d) Capita and other contractors: £638 million (estimated). This is a total figure and has not been broken down into schemes. Medical costs (VWF only): £31 million (estimated); and

(e) the department's internal cost: information not available at this level.