Campbell ruling is too rich for the press

Now the Law Lords have ruled that supermodel Naomi Campbell is too
poor to fund her own legal action against the Daily Mirror, it seems
that “no win, no fee” agreements are open to everyone, with the
possible exception of Roman Abramovich.

This is a calamity for
the press. At least with legal aid – which the media has resisted being
applied to defamation actions – the state vets the finances of every
applicant and picks up the bill.

The Campbell ruling effectively
gives the rich legal aid – with the press picking up the bill of a
Conditional Fee Agreement if the action is victorious and the rich
risking nothing if they lose.

Lord Hoffmann said in his judgment:
“There is nothing in the relevant legislation which suggests that a
solicitor, before entering into a CFA, must inquire into his client’s
means and satisfy himself that he could not fund the litigation
himself.”

Hoffmann did recognise that CFAs with their 100 per
cent “success fees” were causing problems with defamation litigation,
which had given rise to concern that freedom of expression might be
seriously inhibited.

He said it could be that ultimately new legislation would have to be introduced to deal with the problem.

Campbell
got a total of £3,500 damages from the Mirror over its revelations
about her visits to Narcotics Anonymous, but MGN has been left facing a
potential legal costs bill of £1,086,295. The “success fee” was a
staggering £280,000.

Costs like that are not only likely to inhibit free reporting, but could finish off many publications.

The law needs to be changed – and quickly.

What
should be introduced are a financial cap limiting those eligible to use
“no win, no fee” so it is not open to the likes of Naomi Campbell and
Sharon Stone, and a limit on the ludicrously high “success fees” that
can be charged.

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