Mar 302010

Despite growing pressure to reduce recoverable fees in UK Libel Cases, a House of Commons committee voted to delay the proposed changes.  Business Week reports the story.

Many British media outlets supported reform, and news organizations ran multiple editorials in support of the proposed changes. On Tuesday, the Guardian ran an opinion piece encouraging lawyers to support the reforms.  However, amid intense Parliamentary elections, the proposal stalled.

Failure to enact reform will continue to burden free speech and facilitate expensive litigation.  It remains to be seen whether reform is merely delayed or dead.  In the meantime, it’s remains sunny in London for libel tourism.

For further coverage of British libel law and the proposed reforms, read my previous posts.

Mar 192010

With British Parliamentary elections looming, the UK has gone full force towards addressing defamation “success fee” reform.

England’s stringent libel law places the burden of proof on the defendant, making British courts a desirable venue for defamation plaintiffs. Currently, solicitors may recover up to 100% of a client’s earnings in a successful “no win no fee” defamation case. Critics of the current rules say the burden and fee rules chill free speech by journalists and media outlets.  Reformed rules offered by UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw will cut attorney fees to 10%.   According to the Telegraph:

Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, said this has meant that legal bills had spiraled out of control”, deterring journalists and writers from publishing articles which are in the public interest, or forcing them to settle rather than defend defamation actions.

Both houses of Parliament must approve the rules.

There is opposition in Parliament, including a procedural threat by Lord Michael Martin.  [Here the Telegraph explains Lord Martin’s personal experience with Britain’s defamation law.]

Further, many legal groups oppose the reforms and are preparing legal challenges.  They claim that current defamation laws do not infringe free speech but allow claimants to bring cases when they would ordinarily not have the resources to do so.  They argue that the push to reform was instigated by politicians attempting to gain favor with the media.

England’s strict defamation laws place an undue on journalists, but can meaningful defamation reform happen in midst of the UK’s political system? The timing seems opportunistic. Stay tuned…

Also, Catherine Baksi provides an interesting take on the reform process in the Law Society Gazette blog.