Up to 100 families who allege that their children were damaged
by the MMR vaccine are to receive legal aid to sue the drugs companies behind
the controversial inoculation. Following an intervention last week by Mr
Justice Keith, the High Court judge presiding over the multi-million pound
lawsuit launched against the manufacturers of the triple vaccine against
measles, mumps and rubella, The Observer has learnt that the families are
set to be granted aid to pursue their claims against the vaccine's manufacturers.
Without the money, the families would not be able to continue their legal
The families allege the vaccine was responsible for their
children developing a range of conditions, including Crohn's disease, arthritis,
epilepsy and encephalitis - an inflammation of the brain.
The news will alarm the government, which has recently been
waging a hard-hitting PR campaign designed to deflect negative publicity
surrounding the triple jab.
Health officials are worried that concerns about the safety
of MMR have caused vaccination rates to plunge among children, sparking
fears of a measles epidemic.
It is not expected that legal aid will be granted to parents
who allege a link between the vaccine and regressive, atypical autism, a
claim first aired by the controversial scientist, Dr Andrew Wakefield, and
subsequently rejected by most medical experts.
The decision to grant legal aid would represent a significant
U-turn on the part of the Legal Services Commission (LSC), which earlier
this year pulled funding for some 1,300 families who were attempting to
sue the MMR manufacturers, GlaxoSmithKline, Aventis Pasteur and Merck.
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In March, the LSC ruled there was insufficient evidence for
the families to have a reasonable prospect of success in court. Following
the ruling, the drug companies' legal teams indicated they would press for
costs if the parents continued with their claims. The majority of the parents
dropped their legal challenge out of fear of bankrupting themselves.
At the time, the decision to pull legal aid was described
by Keith as 'hardly an advertisement for access to justice'. He subsequently
introduced a 'costs amnesty', which temporarily barred the drugs companies
from seeking money from the parents and gave them until 22 October to decide
on whether to pursue their claims. The deadline was later extended until
Now The Observer has learned that, last Monday, Keith wrote
to the families' legal teams, extending the deadline again, until 28 February.
As a result of the extension, it is expected the LSC will be writing to
up to 100 families notifying them of its plans to reinstate their legal
aid certificates within the next couple of months.
Families who claim their children have been damaged by the
vaccine are likely to view the decision to reinstate their legal aid as
a watershed in their ongoing battle against the drug companies, who vehemently
deny their claims.
But the families believe their case has been bolstered by
events in Japan, where a number of children have been awarded compensation
after suffering severe neurological damage that the Japan courts said was
a result of them receiving the MMR jab.
The prospect of further legal action against the drug companies
in the UK next year looks likely. Some of the parents whose children have
atypical autism and severe bowel problems, and who have lost their legal
aid appeals, are now taking their cases to judicial review. They have pledged
to pursue their claims in the European Court of Human Rights if the review
finds against them.
Neither the LSC or the Department of Health was available
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