Cost of sourcing stories from libel court cases nearly triples

Complaints about increased court information charges have moved on to the cost of obtaining libel writs, which have soared in the past year.

Sarah Limbrick, a freelance from Castlemorton, Worcestershire, has been covering libel battles in the High Court for the past 20 years and uses libel writs, or claim forms as they are known technically, as the starting point for stories.

Last October, the cost of ordering a five-page transcript rose from £1.80 to £5 and Limbrick found that her base costs had soared in one three-month period from £660 to £2,481.

The disparity between the apparent costs and the final tally was caused by the way the structure of the charges was altered, said Limbrick.

‘For most writs no more than two pages are needed to see whether you have a worthwhile story but while before it cost £1 for the first page and 20p thereafter, it now costs £5 for the first 10 pages. Sadly, the fees I get from newspapers haven’t quadrupled,’she said.

Limbrick is now hoping Her Majesty’s Courts Service, a division of the Ministry of Justice, will see the light in the way it did over Magistrates’ Court lists.

But HMCS has indicated that it is not planning to reform the fees soon.

‘It is government policy to ensure fees reflect the full recovery of the cost involved in providing the service,’said Mark Cram of the HMCS.

‘Our continuing strategy is developing our fees to meet full cost price levels.”

Earlier this year, HMCS announced that news organisations would, similarly, have to pay £5 for the first 10 pages and 50p a page thereafter for Magistrates’ Court lists.

At the time, the Telegraph & Argus in Bradford, which covers 12 courts a day, was said to be facing costs of up to £40,000 a year.

Argus editor Perry Austin-Clarke hit out at ‘punitive charges’which would cost his paper ‘tens of thousands of pounds every year”.

And he lobbied HMCS to back down on the basis that the newspapers were providing an essential public service. The service said it would try and provide the court sheets electronically, which would be cheaper.

In the case of writs, the HMCS says that electronic copies are not available.

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