Move to control costs in defamation cases

Plans to control defamation proceedings costs were announced by the Government today, as concerns were raised that not enough has been done to protect the media's freedom of expression.

Justice minister Bridget Prentice said that excessive costs and even the threat of them may force defendants to settle unwarranted claims.

The aim of the consultation is to ensure that costs are more proportionate and reasonable.

Meanwhile, Marcus Partington, chairman of the Media Lawyers Association, said the balance in the courts had swung too far in favour of personal privacy.

He said the United States was looking at passing laws to protect American citizens from UK judgments "because they think we do not do enough in this country to protect freedom of expression".

The Human Rights Act includes an entitlement to private and family life, but also a right to freedom of expression, and the Government consultation comes at a time when court rulings have been criticised for having a chilling effect in restricting the media.

Speaking to the Culture Media and Sport Committee's first evidence session into its Press Standards, Privacy and Libel inquiry, Mr Partington called for a greater control of charges that solicitors incur and seek recovery of.

He also spoke of the difficulties of defending online archives, as an article from 10 or 15 years ago could be downloaded and regarded as a fresh publication.

He said: "Because of the difficulty in defending it, the natural instinct is to remove it."

He highlighted the merits of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) in pro-actively warning newspapers about stories.

"This sort of thing happens all the time but it maybe happens on a quiet behind-the-scenes level which is actually very effective," he said.

Asked if the PCC had been effective in the case of Kate Middleton, Mr Partington said that she was someone who did not seem to want publicity but who went to high profile nightclubs with lots of photographers.

But he emphasised he did not advocate any harassment of Miss Middleton.

The witnesses were also asked about so-called "libel tourism", where overseas citizens make claims against foreign media in British courts.

Mr Partington said he suspected that people came to London because it was seen as claimant-friendly.

He called for much greater consideration as to whether the claimant was properly connected to the country, the degree of publication and whether the British courts were an appropriate forum.

Keith Mathieson, of Reynolds Porter Chamberlain LLP Solicitors, told the select committee: "The media will always make mistakes. That is one of the products of a free society."

But he said that journalists work on the basis that what they are publishing is true.

But Mark Thomson, from Carter-Ruck Solicitors, said: "The practice at the moment is that Press standards have got worse and there are more victims.

"The media know this, sometimes it is too embarrassing...

"They do not want to go to court and face the full publicity of an action."

Asked about lawyers prolonging cases, he said: "No, most cases settle very quickly...

"We are all too busy to drag on a case, it's simply not worth it."

High Court judge Mr Justice Eady has dealt with a number of key cases involving privacy law, including Max Mosley's recent dispute with the News of the World.

The judge ruled that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to his sex life, and that the decision would not curb investigative journalism in the future.

In 2004, Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz launched a libel action against author Rachel Ehrenfeld for claims in a book which was not even on sale in Britain.

But the judge awarded damages to bin Mahfouz because it had been available to buy in the UK via the internet.

Announcing today's proposals, Ms Prentice said: "We need to ensure that people's right to freedom of expression is not infringed, and media organisations continue to report on matters of public concern."

Measures under consideration by the Government consultation include:

:: Limiting recoverable hourly rates by setting either maximum or fixed recoverable rates.

:: Mandatory cost capping or mandatory consideration of cost capping in every case.

:: Requiring the proportionality of total costs to be considered on cost assessments conducted by the court.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Graduate Editor / Editorial Assistant

£16 - 20k: Guru Careers: A Graduate Editor / Editorial Assistant is needed to ...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine