Unite’s legal services has won a judicial review against HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) which means that, when requested to do so a by a coroner, HMRC has to produce to the work history of a person suspected to have died from industrial disease.
The Administrative Court described HMRC’s grounds for objecting to the coroner’s request as a “rubber stamping exercise” that places “an unwarranted burden on the High Court”.
The judgment enables coroners across the UK to obtain the work history of individuals believed to have died as a result of industrial disease, without the need to apply for a High Court order.
The judicial review arose from the senior coroner for Liverpool conducting an inquest into the death of Unite member Mr. Carmichael who had been suffering from asbestosis. As part of the investigation into his death, the coroner served a formal notice on HMRC requesting disclosure of Mr. Carmichael’s work history.
HMRC insisted that the Liverpool coroner obtain a High Court order. Previously, HMRC had been willing to disclose a work history on receipt of a signed consent form from the deceased’s personal representative.
The Carmichael family was represented in the judicial review as an “interested party” and Unite Legal Services backed the family with representation from Thompsons Solicitors.
Unite’s involvement was made all the more important when the Liverpool coroner took a “neutral stance”, and which effectively saw the Carmichael family as the sole party actively opposing HMRC’s interpretation of the law.
The court accepted the legal arguments put forward on behalf of the family. It decided that a coroner’s notice binds the crown therefore requiring HMRC to produce a work history for the coroner’s inquest.
Executive director for legal, membership and affiliated services at Unite, Howard Beckett, said: “This successful legal challenge has ensured Mr. Carmichael’s family, and thousands of other victims of industrial disease, will not have to face unnecessary bureaucracy delaying a coroner investigating the cause of death. Unite records its appreciation to Thompsons Solicitors for representing the interests our members and their families.
“It is disappointing that the court’s decision does not assist our lawyers to access this information from HMRC in fatal industrial disease cases without obtaining a High Court order. Parliament needs to resolve this quickly by way of an amendment to the Deregulation Bill.”
Head of national asbestos litigation at Thompsons Solicitors, Ian McFall, said: “HMRC’s policy on disclosure created an impasse which made it nigh on impossible to investigate many fatal occupational disease cases. The problem will not ultimately be cured until the Deregulation Bill becomes law, but the court’s decision is welcome as it will assist coroners to deal efficiently with inquests at time which is acutely distressing for the families of those who have died from industrial disease.”
The Administrative Court ruling stated that: “There were some 2,756 conclusions of industrial disease from inquests in 2012. The (HMRC’s) suggested High Court route could thus involve applications for occupational histories running into the thousands each year against HMRC alone. Few, if any, of such applications would raise issues meriting consideration by the High Court; the reality is that they would involve ‘rubber stamping’ exercises.”
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Notes to editors
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.