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EMAG takes Treasury to court

Equitable Life policyholders’ action group EMAG has launched a High Court challenge against the Treasury over its failure to fully implement the compensation recommendations of the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

After a ‘depressingly predictable’ response from the Treasury at the end of March, EMAG decided to seek to enforce the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s recommendations through a full Judicial Review.

“The Government’s continued intransigence has forced us to take legal action.” said Paul Braithwaite general secretary of EMAG. “The proposed hardship scheme is totally inadequate, will take years to implement and looks like leaving 90% of victims out in the cold.”

Leading public law solicitors Bindmans LLP are handling the case and Dinah Rose QC has been retained. Both Bindmans and Rose have a proven track record with cases of holding the Government to account involving the Parliamentary Ombudsman.  They were together successful in opening the door to securing £8 billion in compensation for occupational pensioners in failed company schemes.  Bindmans’ head of public law Stephen Grosz said:  “We have identified serious flaws in the Government’s response to the Ombudsman’s Equitable Life report.  We are asking the court to quash the response, forcing ministers to think again.”

EMAG’s main challenges concern the Treasury’s lack of ‘cogent reasons’ for its refusal to accept several of the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s findings of injustice warranting billions in compensation. It also challenges both the narrow remit and the lawfulness of the terms of reference given to Sir John Chadwick, who has been asked to advise the Government on the scheme it proposes, with only discretionary handouts to victims of Government maladminstration.

EMAG is asking the court to expedite the claim and set an early hearing, because of the extreme delays since the Equitable scandal came to light in 2001 and the fact that an estimated 15 victims are dying each day without ever seeing redress.

“MPs have to realise that the Equitable Life festering fiasco will become an election issue” said Braithwaite. “Our members are truly outraged at this Government’s shabby response in continuing to treat us with contempt.  We are bewildered at the hypocrisy of the latest Government £1.6bn bailout when we have been left to twist in the wind. The Government’s oft repeated claim that Equitable was ‘the author of its own misfortunes’ rings hollow when the Prime Minister used exactly those same words a few days ago with respect to the bailout of the Dunfermline Building Society. What’s the difference?”

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