With her barrister’s income, appearances on the lecture circuit and a book deal in the can, it is unlikely Cherie Blair will be pleading poverty any time soon.
But Press Gazette has learned that the wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair is taking advantage of a conditional fee agreement with her lawyers, Atkins, to sue the News of the World under a no-win no-fee deal.
Blair joins the likes of Heather Mills and footballer Marco Materazzi among the rich and famous who have taken advantage of the CFA scheme in recent weeks.
According to the Ministry of Justice, CFAs provide ‘access to justice for those who could not afford to pursue litigation and who are not eligible for public funding”.
Blair is suing the News of the World over a page lead in its 27 January edition, printed under the headline: ‘War of silence: Cherie’s secret feud with PM’s Sarah”.
Atkins has told Press Gazette it agreed to work on a no-win no-fee basis on this case because quashing the story was a matter of strong principle.
‘Atkins tend to only act on CFAs in the case of claims where either the claimant can’t afford it – which is obviously not the case with Cherie – or we think that there’s a very significant principle that needs to be dealt with,’a spokesman said.
‘We do a tremendous amount of action against newspapers in relation to stories about Cherie, and these tend to be resolved before proceedings are issued. In this particular case, for a claim to have got to a point where we’re issuing proceedings, it demonstrates how concerned and angry she is by this story and, from our point of view, how significant we think this story is in harming her reputation.”
Twenty-two media organisations have written to the Ministry of Justice urging the Government to reform the CFA system – a campaign which is being backed by the Press Gazette.
They argue that lawyers are exploiting the system to hold news organisations to ransom.
Under CFAs, lawyers charge the losing side up to 100 per cent extra on top of their normal fees to compensate them for the risk of failure.
Supermodel Naomi Campbell used a CFA to sue the Daily Mirror over breach of privacy.
Trinity Mirror group legal director Marcus Partington said it had long campaigned for CFA reform – a campaign which it is now taking to the European Court of Human Rights.
‘We are fully behind Press Gazette’s campaign,’Partington said.
‘While we recognise and support the aims of CFAs to provide access to justice for those who could not afford it, the problem is that the system of CFAs with 100 per cent success fees has long been exploited by lawyers for the benefit of themselves.
‘That exploitation has been most noticeable in cases where lawyers for wealthy claimants, such as Naomi Campbell, Sharon Stone and Ashley Cole – who have always been able to obtain access to justice – have been able to ‘double their money’ because of the CFA system.
‘Allowing rich lawyers for rich people to get even richer is about as far from providing ‘access to justice’ as it is possible to imagine, and it is hard to work out why the Government permits this to continue. It is not in the public interest.”