Government Seeks Cap On Libel Success Fees


The Secretary of State for Justice, Jack Straw, prompted an angry backlash from claimant libel lawyers after he demanded that success fees should be cut from 100 per cent to 10 per cent. The Justice Secretary has said that the current system is unfair to the media, although critics have interpreted the move as an attempt to placate the press in advance of the forthcoming general election.
It is thought that the new measures will have a significant effect on libel claims by making it very difficult to get conditional fee insurance. As a result, law firms will be wary of taking on libel cases for claimants of limited means.
Desmond Browne QC, the former Chairman of the Bar, said that it was doubtful that a 10 per cent success fee would give the necessary incentive for lawyers to secure justice for those whose reputations have been damaged by the media and that the move would merely ‘substitute one injustice with another’.
Many high-profile libel lawyers share Browne’s view. There is significant concern that considerably fewer people will be able to obtain redress for falsehoods published about them, particularly in newspapers. Lawyers in this area of work believe that redress under the laws of defamation should be available to all citizens, not just the very wealthy or those with celebrity status.
News organisations and investigative journalists support the measures, however, as the risk of huge costs bills in libel cases has had a ‘chilling effect’ on investigative journalism. The new measures could come into effect as early as April 2010 due to an accelerated consultation period of four weeks.

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