Supreme Court to decide on asbestos law

The Welsh Government's top legal officer has asked the Supreme Court to decide whether or not the Assembly has the power to introduce a law to make businesses or insurers pay the costs of treating asbestos patients.

The Counsel General, Theodore Huckle, has referred the bill after representatives of the insurance industry questioned the Assembly's power to legislate on the matter.

The Recovery of Medical Costs for Asbestos Diseases (Wales) Bill was introduced into the National Assembly for Wales by Mick Antoniw AM on 3 December 2012. The Bill was subsequently passed by the Assembly on 20 November 2013.

Under section 112 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 I am able to refer the question as to whether any provisions of the Bill would be within the Assembly’s legislative competence to the Supreme Court for decision during the 4 week intimation period. This period runs from the date on which the Bill was approved and expires on 18 December 2013.

I am aware that bodies representing the insurance industry have consistently disputed the Assembly’s competence to pass this Bill. I am of the view that this Bill is within the competence of this Assembly. I consider, however, it is appropriate in this case to have the issue of the competence of this Bill clearly resolved before the Bill comes into force. I have therefore decided to make a reference to the Supreme Court to ensure this matter is put beyond doubt.

– Theodore Huckle QC, Counsel General for Wales

It's the first time the Counsel General has taken this step although the two previous bills have been referred by the UK Attorney General. The Supreme Court cleared one concerning local government bye-laws and will rule on another to protect the wages of agricultural workers in February 2014.