Labour and the Liberal Democrats would both push ahead with full implementation of Section 40 legal costs penalties for publishers, the two parties have confirmed.
Press Gazette asked for clarification on each party’s position after explicit detail regarding the amendment to the Crime and Courts Act 2013 was left out of manifesto pledges on the media.
If enacted, Section 40 would result in news publishers not signed up to a Royal Charter-backed press regulator paying both sides’ legal costs in court battles, win or lose.
The proposal has been widely condemned by the news industry, which views the Royal Charter as a form of state regulation that threatens the freedom of the press.
The industry has also warned that, if enacted, Section 40 would create a chilling effect and could result in some papers – particularly local titles – closing if they can’t afford to pay legal fees.
The Government has yet to reveal the outcome of a public consultation on whether Section 40 should be enacted, which closed before the snap general election was called last month.
In the consultation, four options were outlined regarding Section 40, which were:
- Option 1: Keep section 40 under review
- Option 2: Fully commence section 40
- Option 3: Repeal section 40
- Option 4: Partially commence section 40
Option 4 would keep the protections for news publishers signed up to a Royal Charter regulator but do away with the cost penalties for those not signed up.
In emails to Press Gazette, spokespeople for Labour and the Liberal Democrats said their party supported “Option 2”.
Only the Conservative Party has confirmed it would repeal the law.
It stated in its manifesto: “We will repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which, if enacted, would force media organisations to become members of a flawed regulatory system or risk having to pay the legal costs of both sides in libel and privacy cases, even if they win.”
Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have also said they will go ahead with Leveson Two, which will examine “wrongdoing in the press and the police”.
The Conservatives have said that following the “comprehensive nature” of the first stage of the inquiry and “lengthy investigations by the police and Crown Prosecution Service into alleged wrongdoing” that they “will not proceed with the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry”.