Mr Justice Popplewell overruled a decision by the Northern Area Legal Aid Committee refusing financial support to 27 people who have filed test cases relating to a total of 227 claims. The claimants have accused Gallaher, Rothmans, Imperial Tobacco, Philip Morris Inc and British- American Tobacco (BAT) of failing to minimise the dangers of smoking or give adequate warning of those risks.
Michael Beloff QC said that many of the claimants were seriously ill and three had died since the first application for legal aid was made.
The judge ordered that a different legal committee should re-examine the application for public funds. He said that he was driven to the conclusion that there had been a procedural irregularity during the original committee hearings.
He said that there were general issues common to claimants that the Northern Area committee seemed not to have addressed, relating to what the industry knew about the risks of smoking, when it knew about them and what companies did once they had that knowledge.