Lords to decide on fairness of no-win, no-fee libel cases

By Dominic Ponsford

The Government has left it to the House of Lords to decide whether
controversial no-win, no-fee rules for lawyers in libel and privacy
cases will be reformed.

The Department of Constitutional Affairs has published a response to
its consultation on Conditional Fee Arrangements and decided to do
nothing in this area of media law.

However, it has said it will
“consider carefully” a House of Lords judgment expected in the autumn
involving the Daily Mirror and supermodel Naomi Campbell and ensure
that “the guidance given by the House of Lords is taken forward”.

Mirror is appealing over a bill for £594,000, charged by Campbell’s
lawyers Schillings for representing her at a two-day Lords hearing
which ruled the paper had breached Campbell’s confidence by reporting
her attendance at Narcotics Anonymous.

Publishers and
broadcasters have argued that no-win, no-fee rules stack the libel odds
unfairly against journalists. This is because lawyers can charge a 100
per cent success fee if they win and charge costs which run into
hundreds of thousands or even millions.

Media organisations told
the DCA that they were being encouraged to settle libel cases for
purely commercial reasons because of the high cost of failure and the
fact that even when they win they can’t claim back their own costs from
the poorer claimants who make CFA libel claims.

Alistair Brett,
from the Fleet Street Lawyers Association, said: “We hope that the
House of Lords judgment won’t be too narrow and that it won’t just
apply to wealthy claimants like Naomi Campbell bringing actions to
court on a CFA – we are hoping that the House of Lords will look at
more general cases where there is an impecunious claimant who may or
may not have insurance behind him and to what extent that could be in
breach of Article 10 [freedom of speech] or article six [right to a
fair trial] of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

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