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



UK

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."
 





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  Relevant Stories

12 Feb 98 | UK
Smokers await costs ruling

26 Jan 98 | Talking Point
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  Internet Links

ASH - Action on Smoking and Health

Imperial Tobacco

Tobacco Manufacturers Association

Cancer Research Campaign


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