Plaintiff instinct

By Jean Morgan

Multi-million dollar-earning Basic Instinct star Sharon Stone is
suing the Daily Mail for libel under a no-win, no-fee agreement.

The Mail could see costs in the case rocket under the terms of
Conditional Fee Agreements, which allow a complainant’s lawyers to
double fees if they are successful.

CFAs were intended to give people who couldn’t afford to sue for libel access to justice.

Media groups are already voicing huge concerns over the size of fees charged by lawyers in no-win, no-fee cases.

The
Daily Mirror is currently petitioning the House of Lords to review a
legal bill of £594,000 from solicitors Schillings, who defended
super-model Naomi Campbell in her fight against the paper over her
visits to a drug rehabilitation clinic.

Under the current regime,
the scale of CFA costs depends on the lawyers handling the case. Farrer
& Co, which is handling the Stone case, acts for a number of the
UK’s media groups, including News International, and may be more
sympathetic. It could waive a no-win, no-fee success fee.

Rupert
Grey, a senior partner at Farrers, confirmed that Stone wanted the
proceedings handled on a CFA basis, but said: “I never comment on
clients’ affairs, on any aspect of the case. If I were to comment, I
would do so when the case is done.”

Grey said Associated Newspapers had indicated it would fight the case.

Actress
and producer Stone has starred in films such as Casino and Total
Recall, which have grossed millions of dollars. A sequel to Basic
Instinct – Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction – is in pre-production. A
recent report estimated Stone’s salary for Basic Instinct 2 would be
around £8m.

In her current writ, she alleges libel over two articles in the Daily Mail last summer.

The
Mail headlined one of the stories “Sharon son sleeps in car while she
dines out” – a reference to her young son allegedly left with security
guards in a car while she joined friends to dine at the Ivy.

Associated
has refused to comment on the writ, but insiders say they are
incredulous that so rich a person as Stone is taking advantage of the
no-win, no-fee system.

Marcus Partington, head of Mirror Group
Newspapers’ legal department, commenting on the case, said: “This
reveals how iniquitous the system is. It was designed to give access to
justice. There is no way that anyone can suggest Sharon Stone needs the
benefit of a CFA with a success fee to have access to justice.

“The
problem is no one has done anything to stop rich people, or indeed
companies, having access to CFAs with success fees. Bill Gates could
instruct a firm to sue and use a CFA with a success fee.”

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