Lord Prescott claimed last night that the extent to which the hacking scandal has led to arrests and prosecutions has only been made possible by the threatened no win, no fee libel system.
The hacking scandal has so far prompted 17 arrests – mostly of former News of the World journalists. The police are understood to have notified 1,800 potential phone-hacking targets, of whom 800 are said to be likely to be victims.
Addressing Home Office minister Lord Henley, Prescott said: ‘Is the minister aware that the appalling level of these arrests and prosecutions reflects badly on the British press and was made possible only by the use of no-win no-cost litigation by those who were complainants, including me.
‘Why are this Government in their legislation on legal aid quite prepared to meet the unanimous demands of the press that we reduce their costs in such situations and yet increase the costs of individual complainants and reduce their access to no-win no-cost litigation?
‘Can he assure the House that those he has mentioned as having been arrested, including the Prime Minister’s former adviser, Mr Coulson, played no part in changing the policy of the previous Government, who rejected the request from the media?”
In an apparent reference to the Mirror’s revelation of Lord Prescott’s extra-marital affair with his diary secretary when he was deputy prime minister, Lord Tebbit said: Tebbit: ‘My Lords, would it not be in the public interest for the press to publish, however they gained knowledge of it, activities by a Minister, in his working time and in his office, which were quite clearly contrary to all standards of decency and the Government’s own code of conduct for Ministers?”