'No win, no fee' holding press to ransom, confrence told

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Leading newspaper lawyer Tony Jaffa has attacked “no win, no fee”
agreements for allowing libel claimants’ lawyers to hold the press to
ransom.

Speaking at the Commonwealth Law Conference today Jaffa
claimed massive legal fees charged under Conditional Fee Agreements
(CFAs) were “imposing intolerable pressure upon media companies to
settle cases, even where the claims against them were unmeritorious”.

Jaffa
told the conference some lawyers were charging £400 an hour in legal
fees which could be doubled to £800 if a CFA claim was successful.

“If
the editor of a small weekly newspaper, in the furthest reaches of the
country, is faced with a complaint from one of the well known
specialist firms of solicitors in London, whom he knows charge their
time at £350 or £400 per hour and whom he also knows charge success
fees of 100 per cent, what is he going to do? “Well, the answer is
obvious. When faced with a threat to the very existence of his title,
he has no option but to take a pragmatic and commercial approach, and
settle the case as quickly and as cheaply as possible.”

Jaffa, a
partner in Foot Anstey, added: “This is not just idle speculation or
scaremongering on my part. Just a few months ago, I had to advise a
client in a matter in which it faced a demand for a complainant’s legal
costs of £20,000, when it’s own legal costs were in the region of only
£2,000. The complaint itself was justified, but the damages the
complainant agreed to accept were dwarfed by his legal fees.”

Jaffa
said of CFAs: “They have more of a regulatory effect on the press than
almost any other development in this country in recent times.”

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