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Libel fee reforms among election casualties

Plans to reform the libel laws to curb success fees charged by lawyers have fallen victim to the election timetable, it emerged last night.

With Parliament due to go into recess next week, the government has been forced to curtail some of its legislative programme.

Among the measures that have been sacrificed are the proposed restrictions on so-called conditional fee agreements which would have limited success fees to 10pc.

The plans were held up last week when they were voted down at the committee stage after a revolt led by former Commons Speaker Lord Martin.

Justice secretary Jack Straw has argued that the plans would have helped local papers who are currently deterred from contesting libel actions by the level of fees being charged.

He said last month: “Whether it’s 100pc or 10pc does not make that much difference to the finances of the very big national and international media chains, but what it affects is local papers.”

Director of the Society Editors Bob Satchwell has expressed disappointment at the outcome.

He said last night in an email to members: “Despite splendid personal lobbying efforts by editors, sadly the reform of CFAs has fallen at the last hurdle because of backbench MPs’ interference for a variety of reasons and a failure to convince government whips that they should provide time for debate.”

“We have presented an overwhelming case that has been accepted widely. We may only speculate on the motives of those with vested interests or at least vested grudges against parts of the media,” he added.

“The irony is that by opposing a sensible reform on the grounds that it might have some interest for NI or the Daily Mail, their actions in fact continue to damage the parts of the media of which they approve.”

Doubt has also been cast on whether the contracts for the independently-funded regional TV news pilots which were awarded 13 days ago will be signed in time for the election.

The Tories have vowed to scrap the plans if they are elected.


Sue (07/04/2010 13:31:00)
If the Tories want to win some votes, all they have to do is vow to make this a reality ASAP. It is utterly shameful that this legislation has been nobbled like this.