Earlier this month, IPSO announced the launch of its pilot arbitration scheme due to run for the next 12 months, or for the time it takes to arbitrate 50 claims, if this is shorter.
The pilot scheme officially began on the 26 July 2016, and is being described by IPSO as “a cost effective way of resolving legal claims outside of court proceedings”. A group of 20 publications from publishers such as Trinity Mirror, Telegraph Media Group, and Conde Nast Publications Limited have agreed to participate in the scheme operated by the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (“CEDR”).
The range of claims that fall within the remit of the scheme is broad and include matters such as libel, slander, malicious falsehood, breach of privacy, data protection and harassment, amongst others. Although it is worth bearing in mind that such claims will only be dealt with in so far as they generate a civil cause of action, as the arbitration scheme does not deal with issues arising from criminal matters.
But, I hear you ask, how will it work? And, more importantly, how much will it cost?
The rules, published by IPSO are long and detailed but broadly, the initial process is similar to that for standard code complaints in as much as the complainant contacts IPSO, who will then consider whether or not the matter falls within the remit of the scheme.
If it does, then the matter will be referred to the relevant publisher and the parties will have an opportunity to consider settlement without having to proceed further.
Only if both parties agree to it, will the matter be transferred to CEDR to begin the arbitration process – this also applies in relation to those publications participating in the pilot scheme. There is no obligation for a publisher to arbitrate a claim if they do not wish to do so.
It is at this point that the first tranche of fees become payable. It is expected that most claims will progress via the preliminary ruling procedure requiring a payment from the publisher amounting to a half share of the £600 + VAT admin fee together with the full preliminary ruling fee of £3,500 + VAT.
Once these fees have been paid, an arbitrator will be appointed from the approved panel, made up of a number of well-known barristers who specialise in media law. The arbitrator will make their preliminary ruling on the “core issues in dispute” in an effort to resolve the issues at the heart of the matter at an early stage.
Once a preliminary ruling has been made then a 21-day interim period will commence in which the parties can try to agree a resolution to the matter between them. In cases where this is not possible, the arbitration can proceed to the final ruling stage where the arbitrator will decide the outcome and make a binding ruling in terms of any damages payable subject to the publisher and the claimant each paying a half share of the £5,000 + VAT final ruling fee.
It is also worth noting that the publisher has the option of requesting that the arbitrator consider striking out the claim at any time during the process. If the arbitrator considers that the claim is wholly without merit, is trivial, frivolous or vexatious, then he or she may stop the arbitration from progressing.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on the progress of the scheme, as with capped fees and a limit on damages of £50,000, it has the potential to create large savings for publishers who find themselves on the receiving end of a claim versus the traditional court procedure.