Justice Secretary Jack Straw said today that libel costs could be dramatically reduced from April as he tabled a legal amendment to cut success fees charged by lawyers in “no win, no fee” defamation cases by 90 per cent.
The move follows the Justice Secretary outlining proposals last month to reduce success fees to ten per cent of their current level as he launched a consultation on tackling the “unjustified” fees charged by lawyers. Currently lawyers in libel and privacy cases can claim up to a 100 per cent uplift on the basic fees from the losing side of they were working under a Conditional Fee Agreement (no win, no fee).
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The Ministry of Justice said today that more than half (53 per cent) of those involved in the consultation, which featured figures from the legal and media professions alongside members of the judiciary and legal insurance groups, backed the planned changes.
Straw said reducing fees would help ‘level the playing field’in defamation cases and aid publication of articles ‘which are in the public interest without incurring such disproportionate legal bills”.
He added: ‘This is particularly important for ensuring open scientific exchange and protecting the future of our regional media, who have small budgets but play a large role in our democracy.
‘The Statutory Order I am laying today reduces the maximum success fee from 100 per cent to 10 per cent, rebalancing the system so it is affordable for the press to defend defamation cases, whilst still ensuring access to justice for those who feel they have been defamed.”
Straw said the move would prove to be a ‘swift solution’to a problem highlighted by both the Culture Media and Sport select committee and Lord Justice Jackson in his review of civil litigation costs.
‘Both Lord Justice Jackson’s report and the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s reports were thorough and well considered, highlighting the need to reduce the 100 per cent success fees in defamation cases,’Straw added.
‘Their recommendations warrant careful consideration and I will be closely studying their proposals over the coming months.
‘In the meantime, the steps I am taking today to reduce the success fee to 10 per cent should go a long way towards securing the freedom of scientific exchange and our tradition of investigative journalism, which are so fundamental to the protection of our democracy in this country.”
Press Gazette has been highlighting the injustices of the Conditonal Fee Agreement system for the last two years with its Fair Play on CFA campaign. The move against CFA success fees comes as the Government is looking into even more substantial changes to the libel laws.
A working party has already been established to consider whether the law of libel, including the law relating to libel tourism, in England and Wales needs reform.
The group, which has already met on three occasions, is expected to report its initial findings to ministers later this month.