Front Page







World Summary

On Air


Talking Point


Low Graphics


Site Map

Thursday, February 12, 1998 Published at 19:45 GMT


Smokers' lawyers win key ruling on costs

Lawyers fighting for smokers who developed lung cancer have been told they are not liable for legal costs if they lose.

In an important test case, the Appeal Court did not grant the lawyers special exemption from any costs, but said that they did not need any particular protection despite working on a no-win no-fee basis.

A Law Society spokesman said: "If the solicitors had been held potentially liable for costs then the whole future of conditional fees would have been undermined.

"The added risk to solicitors of having to pay the other side's costs would have destroyed the commercial viability of no win-no fee agreements as a way of funding legal action."

Dr Sandy Macara, chair of the British Medical Association council, said: "It was outrageous for the tobacco industry, with billions of victims' pounds at its disposal, to try to intimidate the plaintiffs and their lawyers into dropping their action.

"Evidence from the USA, where litigation against the tobacco industry is further advanced, shows that court action is highly effective in forcing the tobacco industry to tell the truth."

Result of action could affect thousands

The lawyers have filed a "group action" case, similar to a US class action, in which the ultimate decision will be binding on numerous individual claims in British courts.

With the way now clear to go ahead with litigation a spokesman for anti-smoking pressure group ASH called on other living victims of lung cancer from cigarette smoking who wish to join the action to contact their organisation.

Gallaher Group's Ian Birks says there's no disappointment at the decision
The lawyers represent 47 smokers who are suing cigarette-makers Gallaher and Imperial Tobacco for not reducing tar levels in the 1950s despite evidence linking them to cancer.

Last year, the High Court ruled that because the lawyers were working on a no-win no-fee basis, they were intimately involved and therefore liable for costs if they lost. This would have made the case almost impossible to fight because the costs could eventually become as high as £20m.

[ image: Martyn Day, lawyer for the cancer victims]
Martyn Day, lawyer for the cancer victims
The lawyers are unable to recover their costs unless the action is successful. But if it is, the legal teams can double their fees.

One of the them, solicitor Martyn Day, said that the new ruling had "cleared the clouds" and case would now be pursued to trial as vigorously as possible.

Martyn Day explains what the decision means for lawyers
Another of the solicitors, John Pickering, said the court had ruled that they were working on exactly the same basis as if their clients were on legal aid.

They also revealed that a gagging order stopping them talking to the media about the case had been lifted. Mr Pickering said it was of fundamental importance that the case should be reported in the media because of the public interest.

Ian Birks, of Gallaher, said: "The decision does not surprise Gallaher. It is the outcome that we expected."

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage


  Relevant Stories

12 Feb 98 | UK
Smokers await costs ruling

26 Jan 98 | Talking Point
Are tobacco companies responsible for cigarette addiction?

26 Jan 98 | UK
Former smokers challenge court orders

17 Jan 98 | World
Record tobacco settlement for Texas

  Internet Links

ASH - Action on Smoking and Health

Imperial Tobacco

Tobacco Manufacturers Association

Cancer Research Campaign

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.
In this section

Next steps for peace

Blairs' surprise over baby

Bowled over by Lord's

Beef row 'compromise' under fire

Hamilton 'would sell mother'

Industry misses new trains target

From Sport
Quins fightback shocks Cardiff

From Business
Vodafone takeover battle heats up

IRA ceasefire challenge rejected

Thousands celebrate Asian culture

From Sport
Christie could get two-year ban

From Entertainment
Colleagues remember Compo

Mother pleads for baby's return

Toys withdrawn in E.coli health scare

From Health
Nurses role set to expand

Israeli PM's plane in accident

More lottery cash for grassroots

Pro-lifers plan shock launch

Double killer gets life

From Health
Cold 'cure' comes one step closer

From UK Politics
Straw on trial over jury reform

Tatchell calls for rights probe into Mugabe

Ex-spy stays out in the cold

From UK Politics
Blair warns Livingstone

From Health
Smear equipment `misses cancers'

From Entertainment
Boyzone star gets in Christmas spirit

Fake bubbly warning

Murder jury hears dead girl's diary

From UK Politics
Germ warfare fiasco revealed

Blair babe triggers tabloid frenzy

Tourists shot by mistake

A new look for News Online

UK Contents

Northern Ireland