'Generous' US counsel wins prize

THE US lawyer who supplied documents crucial to UK compensation claims for asbestos-related diseases has received a Freedom of Information Award.

Michael O'Connor, a vice-president and senior lawyer of the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York, was presented with his award by Labour leader Tony Blair last week.

It was given in recognition of his efforts to help UK lawyers in the asbestos hearings which went to court last week.

A spokesman for the Campaign for Freedom of Information, which runs the annual award scheme, said: “Mr O'Connor obtained the documents under a US order which does not restrict the use he makes of them.

“Under a British court order he would only have been able to use them for his own litigation and could not have passed them on to other lawyers, let alone make them public.”

British lawyers say O'Connor has been extraordinarily generous in providing documents relevant to their clients' claims.

Barrister Kieran May, who collected the award on O'Connor's behalf, said: “O'Connor's efforts to provide wide discovery of documents obtained in the US and other jurisdictions has revolutionised the situation for plaintiffs seeking to recover damages.

“This shows that the process of discovery in the US is rigorous and properly policed, whereas in England it is desultory and less than responsible. In the US people treat discovery seriously. Here I'm not sure they do.”