Some 1,500 years after the native Britons–whose struggle against Angle and Saxon invaders in the fifth and sixth centuries formed the basis of the Arthurian legends–were named “foreigners” in their own country and pushed into the remote western mountains of the island, their descendants now have to fight for their rights yet again. Instead of Mount Badon, however, this battle is taking place in the British courts. As regular readers know, the U.K. House of Lords (analogous to the U.S. Senate) recently passed legislation denying those who suffer from pleural plaques (but have yet to develop an actual asbestos disease) the right to compensation, caving in to the demands of powerful corporate interests. Scotland, now with its own Parliament and on the verge of becoming an independent member of the E.U., overturned this ruling.
What is happening in Wales is a different situation, but represents yet another nail in the coffin being built for the rights of asbestos disease victims in the U.K., where such illnesses are reaching epidemic levels. The U.K. government has recently announced drastic cuts in what U.S. law calls the statute of limitations–in other words, the time within which an asbestos victim must file a claim before losing the right to do so. Until now, there has been no such statute of limitation in Wales. Now, Welsh asbestos victims are now being told that they may have to file such claims within 12 months of the initial diagnosis. Anne Howells, who lost her husband to mesothelioma eight years ago, was furious. She said that even with an “excellent solicitor” (a lawyer who advises and aids clients but does not usually represent them in a court of law), “…it took four or five years before everything got sorted [out]…I’d say that a year is far too short a period.” Even a member of Britain’s Health Ministry agrees that the new restrictions are unreasonable: “It’s quite dangerous for the Department of Work and Pensions to set such a restrictive time limit…there may be many reasons why a claim is not brought immediately. Perhaps there are medical inquiries still being undertaken …maybe it has taken people time to come to terms with [and] legal advice taken as to what claim can be made.”