Lawyers threaten judicial review over CFA cuts

A newly formed group, Lawyers for Media Standards, is threatening to seek judicial review over Justice Secretary Jack Straw’s plan to cut the maximum success fee which lawyers working on Conditional Fee Agreements cases can charge.

The group has demanded that Straw drops his plan to reduce success fees by ninety per cent in so-called no-win, no-fee cases and re-open the consultation which preceded his announcement.

Lawyers for Media Standards outlined the threat in a letter sent to Straw, earlier this month, by law firm Collyer Bristow.

The group claims that the consultation, which was shortened to just four weeks, was unfair and inadequate.

The consultation failed to take account of relevant considerations, the group added, such as evidence that reducing the success fees could lead to defamation lawyers ceasing to take CFA cases.

In addition, the group claims that limiting the fee could impede access to justice and that evidence existed that 100 per cent success fees were rarely recovered by lawyers.

Lawyers for Media Standards said it believed the consultation took account of irrelevant considerations.

The Justice Ministry claimed the fee cut could help “ensure open scientific exchange”, however the group believes: “in fact there was no evidence that CFAs had been regularly or commonly used in defamation cases against scientists.”

The letter went on to claim there had been a failure to address or reach conclusions on the main arguments and issues raised during the consultation by those who were opposed to the proposal.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said it would respond to the letter in due course.

The spokesman added: “The shorter consultation period allowed us to put an interim solution into effect while we fully consider Lord Justice Jackson’s proposals for longer term reform.

“In addition, the issue has been the subject of public comment for some time, with previous consultations from the Ministry of Justice, and an investigation by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport Committee (on Press Standards, Privacy and Libel), which started taking evidence in February 2009, and reported in February 2010.”

Straw said earlier this month that he was introducing the change, which would come into effect next month.

At present, lawyers working on CFAs can double their normal fees by recovering success fee costs from the losing defendants in defamation and privacy cases.

Media organisations say that the success fee – intended to enable lawyers who work on CFAs to use the money raised to finance any cases they lose – have made costs in defamation and privacy cases grossly disproportionate.

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