Page last updated at 18:30 GMT, Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Jack Straw proposes capping libel law fees at 10%

Jack Straw
Jack Straw is looking at fees

The government has announced plans to cut the amount charged by lawyers working on successful no-win, no-fee libel cases, from 100% to 10%.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw said there was growing concern about "high legal costs" in these types of cases.

A consultation on the plan, which would affect cases in England and Wales, is now under way.

There has been growing concern at the rise of "no-win, no-fee" cases in the courts threatening freedom of speech.

Campaigners and media organisations have said they are concerned that the way the law operates can deter journalists and writers from publishing articles that are deemed to be in the public interest.

This is because of the risk of incurring huge costs if they are sued for defamation.

'Reasonable costs'

The law also allows lawyers to double their fees under "no-win, no-fee" agreements, officially called conditional fee agreements, by claiming a success fee of up to 100% on top of their usual fee, payable by the losing party.

The Ministry of Justice is working on a programme to ensure that costs in these cases are "reasonable and proportionate".

Civil law on defamation covers both libel (published) and slander (spoken)
To be defamed means the statement exposed claimant to hatred, ridicule or contempt; caused them to be shunned; lowered them in the minds of "right-minded" citizens; disparaged them in their business, office, trade or profession
Claimant has to prove material is defamatory and refers to them, but not that it was false. Burden is on defendant to offer a defence
Defendant has to prove either the material was true; was fair comment made honestly in the public interest; was reported correctly from Parliament or court and is immune from liability; was reported, without malice, from other protected arenas such as a press conference; that amends have been made and accepted

However, it is possible for this particular proposal to become law via a statutory instrument by May.

Last week a review by Lord Justice Jackson found that there had been huge rises in civil litigation costs in England and Wales in recent years.

It said reforms could save people millions of pounds and recommended that lawyers in "no win, no fee" civil cases should no longer have a "success fee" paid by the defendants, but should get a share of damages awarded.

It also called for a 10% rise in damages pay-outs to ensure claimants were still properly compensated.

Mr Straw said a working group was looking at reviewing the libel laws of England and Wales and that "freedom of expression and investigative journalism" helped protect democracy.

He said: "Lawyers need to recover their costs and be rewarded for their efforts and the risks they undertake when providing people with access to justice in 'no win no fee' cases.

"But evidence suggests that the regular doubling of fees that currently takes place is simply not justified and the balance of costs between claimant and defendant needs to be reconsidered."

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Mail Online UK Straw wants libel lawyers' fees to be slashed by 90 per cent - 4 hrs ago
Telegraph Peers who fail to pay taxes could face jail - 9 hrs ago
The Independent Straw proposes cutting libel success fees to 10 per cent - 16 hrs ago
Financial TimesLawyers face 90% fee cut for libel case wins - 16 hrs ago Libel lawyers' 'success fees' to be cut by 90% - 22 hrs ago
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