Press freedom threatened by 'no win, no fee', MPs told

Nearly all the UK’s top media organisations have told Parliament that current “no win, no fee” libel case rules are damaging freedom of speech.

In response to Government consultation the companies said in a letter on Monday that the current system is having a “serious ‘chilling effect’ on the right to freedom of expression”.

The rules allow libel lawyers to take cases on a “no win, no fee” basis and then charge the loser a 100 per cent uplift on the fees if they win to make up for the risk of failure.

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In a case last year DJ Sara Cox won a £50,000 privacy payout from The People, but her lawyers, Schillings, have claimed some £272,000 in costs with fee uplift.

Marcus Partington, head of editorial legal at MGN, said: “Effectively the system isn’t being used to give ‘access to justice’ but to allow specialist (for which read very expensive) solicitors to double their money.

“Critics of newspapers may say that we are big enough to look after ourselves, but what will happen when an individual is on the receiving end of this? What happens when there is a slander claim against an individual and they suddenly get faced with costs of £800 an hour? If lawyers want to do a case on no win, no fee, I’m not going to object to that. What I object to is when they take advantage of a system which was supposed to bring access to justice so that they can double their costs.”

The signatories of the letter to Parliament are: Associated Newspapers, the BBC, BskyB, Channel Four, Express Newspapers, Five, Guardian Newspapers, Independent News & Media, ITN, News Group Newspapers, the Newspaper Society, Times Newspapers and Trinity Mirror

By Dominic Ponsford

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