Second Lords defeat for Government over costs in phone-hacking cases

House of Lords

The Government today suffered a further defeat in the Lords over the
awarding of costs against newspapers and media organisations in
phone-hacking cases.

Ministers were first defeated earlier this month when peers complained
that a key part of the Leveson inquiry report offering “protection” over
costs for victims of press intrusion had not been introduced.

A cross-party alliance of peers voted then by 282 to 180 – a majority of
102 – for an amendment which would allow a victim of phone hacking to
claim court costs against media organisations.

Today, independent crossbencher Baroness Hollins moved to “clarify” the
earlier change to the Investigatory Powers Bill, which gives the police
and security services a range of new powers to access communications
data and internet communications.

She said the new amendment aimed to ensure that “cost protections will
apply to new claims alleging illegal phone or e-mail hacking by
newspapers as originally intended”.

The change was “one tiny step towards bringing some much-needed balance into the system”, Lady Hollins insisted.

For the Government, Lord Keen of Elie warned the Bill was not the place
to deal with such an issue and urged her to withdraw the amendment.

But, in a vote at third reading, it was carried by 226 to 186, a majority of 40.

It will now be for the Commons to decide whether to accept or overturn
the defeat.

Lady Hollins said the effect of the change would be to implement “the
courts costs expenses and protections” of section 40 of the Crime and
Courts Act 2013, which the Government had failed to commence.

She said senior members of the Government had tried to persuade her not
to pursue the amendment but she was not willing to “give way to this
pressure”.

Suggestions that small local papers would be “at risk” from section 40
were “wrong” because newspapers could choose to join a recognised
regulator “and get the same costs protections that the public will get – unlike newspapers that choose not to join”.

Lady Hollins said the “limited amendments” would not adversely affect
small newspapers because “they don’t hack phones”.

She told peers: “The local newspaper threat is a smokescreen. The
protests are really coming from the big newspaper groups who own most of the regional papers and are effectively using them as newsprint shields.”

Backing the amendment for the Liberal Democrats, Lord Paddick said he
did not understand why the Government would oppose something that simply corrected a drafting issue.

For the Opposition, Lord Rosser also backed the change, saying he was
not able to comment on whether the new amendment achieved its purpose or not but the Government hadn’t been “particularly helpful” in seeking to assist on the wording that would achieve the aim of the earlier defeat.

Lord Rosser said the change would ensure the Government had another
opportunity in the Commons to put forward wording which achieved the
objective sought by peers.

But Lord Keen said the amendment had nothing to do with the part of the
Bill it was being added to, clause eight, which was not intended to
regulate the press or deal with the issue of awarding costs.

“It simply has no application in this context,” he said. Anyone carrying
out phone hacking would already face, under the Bill, a criminal
conviction.

“There are already avenues for individuals to pursue civil claims
against those who carry out unlawful interceptions, such as phone
hacking.

“The outcome of Leveson and press regulation are very important issues.
But this Bill is not the appropriate place to deal with such an issue,”
Lord Keen said.

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