RELEASE DATE: 17 September 2013
‘Death by a thousand cuts’ fear for local press
New laws aimed at capping costs in defamation and privacy cases could leave local newspapers struggling to pay legal bills even if they win, says the Chartered Institute of Journalists.
Following a recommendation by Lord Justice Leveson, the Government is consulting on plans to introduce a cost-protection scheme which would see those of ‘modest’ means exempted from paying their opponent’s legal fees – even if they lose a court case.
Amanda Brodie, chairman of the CIoJ’s Professional Practices Board, said: “The prospect of a payout without the danger of having to pay costs even if they lose, will encourage many people to simply have a pop at their local papers, to see what they can get. This could spell ‘death by a thousand cuts’ for some of our papers, which are already struggling to survive in these harsh economic times.
“Taken together with a no-win-no-fee agreement, this means a litigant could potentially walk away from losing a defamation/privacy case, leaving the innocent newspaper to pick up a hefty legal bill. A large bill of this type, or a succession of smaller vexatious claims, could put some local papers out of business all together.
“Even if the cost-protection benefit is retrospectively withdrawn by the judge, as in the case of a vexatious claim, the paper will have already gone to considerable expense both in finances and staff time, in defending the issue. It is certain that a proportion of this outlay will not be recovered, and so each case will represent a drain on already meagre resources.
“Whilst we support the principle that justice should be affordable to all, Lord Justice Leveson is wrong to seek to extend the principle of costs protection to defamation and privacy cases. It is another example of how a seemingly well-intentioned law can have a detrimental spin-off effect on journalism.
“Yet again our vital local press has been over-looked in the head-long rush to litigation involving the media. “
If this proposal goes through, the CIoJ fears it will have a disproportionate effect on local newspapers, which were exonerated of any blame in the phone-hacking saga which led to the Leveson enquiry.
Note to Editors:
Formed in 1884, the Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ) is the world’s oldest established professional body for journalists, and a representative voice of media and communications professionals throughout the UK and the Commonwealth. Website: www.cioj.co.uk
Amanda Brodie MCIJ, Chairman, Professional Practices Board, Chartered Institute of Journalists (mobile: 0777 5992563 email: firstname.lastname@example.org)