Judge backs costs ruling in paedophile mix-up libel case

Sun : took out adverts in local press to apologise to Gazley

Top libel judge Mr Justice Eady has backed the decision to cut the legal costs charged in a “no win, no fee” case involving a man wrongly identified by a photograph in The Sun newspaper as a paedophile.

David Gazley, from Great Yarmouth, whose picture was wrongly published, has failed in a High Court battle over the legal costs he ran up suing the newspaper.

He hired London law firm Carter-Ruck and Partners to sue The Sun and accepted an offer of £50,000 from the paper. Before Carter-Ruck became involved he was offered £10,000.

The Sun then challenged the £91,779 bill charged by Carter-Ruck under a conditional fee agreement.

Under CFAs lawyers can claim a “success fee” of up to 100 per cent of costs if they win.

Last March, a costs judge ruled Gazley had not acted reasonably in instructing London solicitors, and that he was only entitled to recover costs on the basis of rates applicable to solicitors in the Norwich area. The judge cut the legal bill to £32,633 (Press Gazette , 19 March).

Mr Justice Eady, in backing the costs judge, stressed that his decision was not to be taken as laying down guidelines on the rights of litigants to chose expensive lawyers to act for them.

However, libel lawyers consider it inevitable that this judgment will have impact on the choice of lawyers in the future. While it does not lay down firm guidelines it serves as an indicator of judicial thinking on this important aspect of libel actions.

The judge said: “It is important to recognise that in order to have the necessary or the proportionate expertise available one does not always need to instruct London specialist solicitors.

An important factor is that any competent litigation solicitor in the country can call upon specialist members of the Bar at very short notice.”

He continued: “Naturally, there will be cases where it is reasonable, or for that matter highly desirable, for specialist lawyers to be instructed in libel litigation.”

Mr Justice Eady added, however, that there had been “substantial cases” tried both in London and elsewhere in the past which had been handled throughout by competent non-specialist solicitors with the help of experienced counsel.

He said the question raised by this case was whether the costs judge had been wrong in his view that it was not reasonable of Gazley to instruct Carter-Ruck, given the limited nature of the issues that at the time remained outstanding.

Mr Justice Eady said he did not consider the decision of the costs judge could be classified as wrong and dismissed the appeal.

The judge said The Sun and its lawyers had recognised the gravity of the situation, published an apology and set about negotiating a settlement.

The picture was supplied by an agency.

By Roger Pearson

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