News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

Lawyers in MMR vaccine cases have had £1.3m from public funds

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.332.7538.383 (Published 16 February 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:383
  1. Roger Dobson
  1. Abergavenny

    The three leading barristers involved in the litigation relating to the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine have been paid more than £1.3m ($2.3m; €1.9m), a parliamentary reply revealed last week.

    In a written question in the House of Lords, the Conservative peer Earl Howe had asked what legal advice on the merits of the litigation had been obtained by the Legal Services Commission from barristers with or without an interest in being paid legal aid fees in the litigation.

    A written reply said that the three lead barristers working on the generic work in the litigation were paid £463 782, £445 601, and £424 659.

    It said that no barristers provided advice who did not have an interest in being paid legal aid fees.

    Although more than 1440 legal aid certificates have been issued, the commission says it is not aware of any damages being awarded or of any legal proceedings that have started. Legal aid certificates, which are issued by the commission and allow solicitors to carry out work for their clients, stipulate what work can be carried out and how much money can be spent. The commission says that 95 legal aid certificates remain active, none of which relates to autism or bowel disease.

    In her reply to the question the Labour peer Catherine Ashton, undersecretary of state at the Department of Constitutional Affairs, said that because of the size and complexity of the litigation, a number of senior barristers were used by the Legal Services Commission and its predecessor, the Legal Aid Board. Lady Ashton said it is not possible to give figures for total legal and experts' costs: “The MMR litigation is a particularly complex area involving both generic and individual work, some of which is ongoing or has not yet been paid for.”

    She said that some legal aid certificates will be assessed in court at the end of March. “If the court reaches a decision and all the outstanding bills are paid, the commission will then be able to provide figures.”

    Her reply shows that up to January this year 1446 legal aid certificates had been issued, of which 1351 had been discharged. The 95 cases that remain active all relate to conditions in children other than autism and bowel disease.

    “Legal aid funding remains in place for a small number of cases, which continue to be investigated,” said a spokesman for the commission.

    Two years ago the Funding Review Committee, which handles appeals on decisions of the Legal Services Commission, upheld a decision of the commission to stop funding for cases related to autism and bowel disease. But it reinstated 11 cases where it might be possible to pursue legal action.

    These cases involved conditions that did not relate to autism or bowel disorder but to encephalitis, epilepsy, and deafness occurring after vaccination and to alleged injuries occurring after vaccination with earlier versions of the MMR vaccine that have been withdrawn.

    At the time Clare Dodgson, chief executive of the commission, said, “I have every sympathy for the parents and their children. These children are clearly ill, and their parents genuinely believe the MMR vaccine caused their illnesses. However, we have an obligation to only fund cases which have reasonable prospects of success and where the cost of the action is reasonable when compared with the potential damages.”

    The parliamentary reply can be found at www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld199900/ldhansrd/pdvn/lds06/text/60202w04.htm.

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