Associated's defence of our right to criticise

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The pressure on Associated Newspapers to settle the libel case brought by DCI Christopher Miller would have been intense.

Miller,
who had sued over critical stories about the investigation he led into
false sex allegations against Neil and Christine Hamilton, had the
power of the Police Federation on his side. And as anybody who has been
involved in a case involving the federation knows, that puts you at an
automatic disadvantage.

Indeed, there are those who believe that
the alacrity with which it backs the crushing of critical comment
through legal channels makes publishers unduly cautious about issues
that are of vital public interest. Added to this was the fact that
Miller’s case, which was already advancing with no risk to the
complainant, was being conducted on a no-win no-fee arrangement.

This
ups the ante considerably for a publisher deciding whether to opt for
an early settlement of an action. In Associated’s case, having
proceeded to court it faced losing more than £3m had the judgement gone
against it – thanks to the huge “uplift” in lawyers’ fees allowed under
no-win no-fee deals. So you can imagine the relief and the sense of
vindication when Justice Eady ruled last Friday in the Mail and
Standard’s favour.

It speaks volumes for Associated that it was
prepared to stand firm in defence of its – and the rest of the media’s
– right to robustly criticise publicly funded figures when they make
mistakes, as Miller undoubtedly did in his leadership of two particular
investigations.

But it also speaks volumes of a flawed libel system that it should have to risk so much money to do so.

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