Landmark rulings check rising costs of compensation

The rising tide of compensation was checked yesterday by two court rulings that rejected cases brought by three asylum-seekers and a disabled single mother.

In the first ruling the Court of Appeal threw out three test cases by asylum-seekers claiming compensation under the Human Rights Act. The panel of judges, led by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf, used the appeals to set down guidelines that will curb the rising cost of human rights compensation.

In a separate case, seven law lords overturned a virtually blind single mother's court victory that could have provided her with more than £1m compensation to help bring up a child born after a failed sterilisation operation. Instead, in a judgment where four out of seven law lords upheld an appeal from the NHS Trust involved, they awarded her just £15,000 for "being the victim of a legal wrong".

Karina Rees, from Darlington, Co Durham, who was born with the genetic disorder retinitis pigmentosa, is blind in her left eye and has only one-sixth of normal vision in her right. She asked for the sterilisation because she feared she would not be able to raise a child, but one of her fallopian tubes was not fully tied during the operation in 1995.

The hospital has admitted negligence but said she was entitled only to limited levels of compensation for pain and suffering and losses caused by her pregnancy and labour.

Lord Bingham said the policy was to regard a child, even if originally unwanted, as a blessing rather than a financial liability. He said this meant that to award large sums to the parents of a normal and healthy child would take much-needed funds away from the NHS.

In the Court of Appeal ruling Lord Woolf said one of the asylum cases, estimated to have already cost £250,000 in legal fees, never stood any chance of succeeding.

A Lithuanian family had sued a local authority for damages over what they alleged was inadequate housing while they sought asylum in the UK. When a High Court judge threw out the family's claim, they went to the Court of Appeal. The three test cases were heard in June.