29 May 2014

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) will have to produce the work history of a person suspected to have died from industrial disease when requested to do so by a coroner, following a successful judicial review brought by Unite.

The judgment enables coroners across the UK to obtain the work history of such individuals, without the need to apply for a High Court order.

The Administrative Court described HMRC’s grounds for objecting to the coroner’s request as placing "an unwarranted burden on the High Court".

It noted that there were some 2756 conclusions of industrial disease from inquests in 2012 and that HMRC’s suggested route could thus involve applications for occupational histories running into the thousands each year with few, if any, raising issues meriting consideration by the High Court.

The judicial review arose when Liverpool's senior coroner conducted an inquest into the death of a Unite member 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 the man’s work history.

HMRC insisted that a High Court order be obtained. Previously, according to the union, it had been willing to disclose a work history on receipt of a signed consent form from the deceased’s personal representative.

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, he explained, but the court’s decision will assist coroners to deal efficiently with inquests at a time which is acutely distressing for the families of those who have died from industrial disease.

From Paul Clarke, business writer for Croner