Judges to be given funding for libel actions suits

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The Independent Online

Judges are to be given taxpayers' money to sue for libel and to be trained to deal with newspaper reporters who "doorstep" them outside their homes, the Lord Chancellor's Department announced yesterday. The new rules are part of a twin drive to give judges the tools to defend themselves from "gross libels" and to make them more media-aware.

Judges are to be given taxpayers' money to sue for libel and to be trained to deal with newspaper reporters who "doorstep" them outside their homes, the Lord Chancellor's Department announced yesterday. The new rules are part of a twin drive to give judges the tools to defend themselves from "gross libels" and to make them more media-aware.

Funds would only be advanced in the most extreme circumstances when a member of the public or a newspaper's comments affected the whole judiciary rather than just the individual judge.

The move was "correcting an anomaly" and would not prompt a rush of judges into the libel courts, said a spokesman for the Lord Chancellor's Department. Aggrieved judges would also be required to try to settle the matter out of court by way of an apology and a correction, before launching legal action. If that failed, the Lord Chancellor would consider whether bringing a full libel action was in the public interest.

Litigants in person who criticise judges, bringing the administration of justice into disrepute, now risk being sued for libel, under the rules to be introduced in May. Last year a website was shut down after the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, informed an internet service provider that the site was being used to criticise judges.

This month Geoffrey Scriven, president of the Litigants in Person Society, was taken to court after he published material which the Attorney-General said "scandalised the courts". Mr Scriven accused the judiciary of belonging to a "judicial mafia" and launched a series of legal actions against judges and the courts. In court, he was threatened with imprisonment but finally dealt with by being made a vexatious litigant, forcing him to seek the court's permission before issuing any more legal claims.