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Government consultation intends to curb 'excessive' UK libel costs of free speech

Government consultation intends to curb 'excessive' UK libel costs of free speech
Bridget Prentice, the Justice Minister, has announced a formal review of the system aimed at curbing 'excessive' libel costs.Photo: The Telegraph / Eddie Mulholland

The cost of legal fees in defamation cases should be controlled, the British government has announced, according to BBC. The proposals for England and Wales follow claims that high fees are having an effect on freedom of expression.

Newspaper lawyers have said that some stories are simply ignored—to avoid the possible expense of a libel case. Justice Minister Bridget Prentice expressed concern that people felt forced to settle out of court to avoid excessive costs.

The BBC report said: [Link]

"The aim of these proposals is to bring more effective cost control to litigation in defamation proceedings and to ensure that costs in this area are more proportionate and reasonable," she 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."

The launch of the consultation paper on the plans came ahead of evidence being given by national newspapers' lawyers to the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on the effects of libel fee costs.

Media lawyers have previously complained of the "chilling" effect that these expenses are having in libel cases with regard to freedom of expression. The government was particularly critical of no-win, no-fee conditional fee agreements (CFAs) which mean that claimants can sue media organisations without having to risk any of their own money.

Measures being considered under the consultation, which closes on 6 May, 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.
Date posted: February 26, 2009 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 2840