Publishers urged to get on no-win no-fee bandwagon

Price: ‘lawyers take the risk’

Publishers alarmed by the growing use of “no-win no-fee” agreements by libel litigants are being urged to fight fire with fire by using the same system to defend themselves.

Libel lawyers David Price Solicitors & Advocates are advising publishers to use the weapon of conditional fee arrangements (CFAs) against those suing them for libel.

CFAs have caused controversy because lawyers can charge up to double their costs if they win cases. Anxious publishers are worried that it is inflating the already high costs of defending libel actions.

But David Price claims: “The smart thing for a media defendant to do is to turn that weapon against their opponent and take out a CFA with their own lawyers to defend the claim.” Its “no-win no-fee” scheme for defendants was launched in November 2002 and now has numerous takers, according to Price.

He said: “There is no reason why conditional fees should be one-way traffic with claimants in the driving seat. Any publisher with a meritorious defence should have a similar opportunity to be represented on a conditional fee basis. There is the obvious advantage of not having to pay if the case is lost, together with the undoubted sobering effect on a claimant.”

Price added: “A defendant faced with a claimant acting under a CFA may have to take a commercial decision to settle – be they national newspaper, small publishing house or individual – for fear not of the libel damages, but of the libel costs.”

He said his firm had acted for small publishing houses, campaigning groups and individuals who had been sued for libel but would not have been able to defend themselves without “no-win no-fee” agreements.

Price said. “Freedom of speech may well be fettered if defendants have to settle cases rather than go bankrupt or out of business. But if we are advising them on a CFA, it is we who take the risk, not them”.

His firm is offering clients for whom it legals copy prior to publication a guarantee that they will be represented under a CFA if they comply with the pre-publication advice. “The fear of any successful libel claim can be significantly reduced as a result. That can drastically reduce the chilling effect on freedom of speech”, claimed Price.

By Jon Slattery

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