Major setback for families of victims in tainted milk scandal Families of victims in the scandal over melamine-tainted milk powder suffered a major setback yesterday. Hebei Higher People's Court refused to accept the first collective compensation lawsuit brought against dairy firm Sanlu since the scandal broke in September. A group of lawyers, acting without payment, lodged a joint civil lawsuit on behalf of 63 victims yesterday in Hebei , the home province of Sanlu, seeking nearly 7 million yuan (HK$7.9 million) in compensation for costs incurred and another 7 million yuan for psychological damage. But they were told by a court chief that the case could not be accepted because the authorities were still investigating. 'He received the documents but said that none of the Hebei courts had accepted Sanlu cases previously since relevant authorities, namely the courts at different levels and the communist political and legal committees, were still studying the case,' said one of the lawyers, Li Xiongbing . Under mainland civil procedure law, a court has seven days to decide whether to accept a case, but it should accept cases if there is an identifiable defendant and a substantial cause for a lawsuit, and if the court has jurisdiction. The Ministry of Health announced last week that the number of babies who developed kidney disorders from melamine-tainted milk powder was 290,000, six times the number released in September. The death toll has risen from four to six. Individual lawsuits were brought by parents in several provinces as early as September 22 but none of the cases were accepted. Parents were initially told by the courts that they were filing lawsuits at the wrong level of court, or in the wrong province. But in mid-October, a Lanzhou court said it could not accept Sanlu-related cases until authorities issued specific guidelines. Yang Yong , father of 13-month-old Yang Huan, who is still undergoing treatment for kidney failure in Xuzhou city , Jiangsu province , said the family had just borrowed 20,000 yuan from relatives and friends for the baby's third round of hospital treatment. He said his hopes sank on Saturday when a baby in Hubei who checked out of hospital after kidney-stone treatment died suddenly. 'It is shocking how the court could refuse to accept our case when we have plenty of evidence to support our claims,' Mr Yang said. Law professor He Weifang said: 'This is a very serious problem. The courts should have accepted the case according to the law, and not make their decisions based on instructions from authorities or based on [official] documents. If even the courts are not abiding by the law, how can the people trust the law?' Experts said that not allowing the law to resolve disputes would lead to further discontent. Since the scandal, the government has implemented measures to overhaul the dairy industry and tighten food-safety regulations, but has yet to mention compensation. Some people fear that history might repeat itself, as victims of the 2004 Fuyang fake-milk-powder scandal failed to receive any payouts. But others hoped the government's postponement of judicial action indicated plans to set up a centralised compensation fund. 'But even if authorities need to co-ordinate on how to judge these cases, or which courts to hear these cases, or out-of-court settlements, it should still be done after the cases have entered the judicial procedure,' Mr Li said. He said the group would take further action to safeguard legal moves if the Hebei court rejected the class action after seven days.