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Defamation Proceedings

Volume 488: debated on Tuesday 24 February 2009

I have today issued a consultation paper “Controlling Costs in Defamation Proceedings”.

The high level of costs incurred in defamation and some other publication proceedings has been the subject of criticism and debate in the courts and Parliament. The risk of excessive costs may force defendants to settle unmeritorious claims, which in turn may encourage a more risk-averse approach to media reporting and is a risk to freedom of expression. The Government are therefore consulting on measures designed to place more effective controls on the costs in defamation and some other publication related proceedings. The measures include:

Limiting recoverable hourly rates by setting either maximum or fixed recoverable rates;

Mandatory or mandatory consideration of cost capping;

Linking recoverability of ATE Insurance premiums to notification and introducing a period of non-recoverability post notification; and

Requiring the proportionality of total costs to be considered on cost assessments conducted by the court.

These proposals would work to: help deal with the threat of excessive hourly rates and base rates; limit the recoverability of after the event insurance premiums in certain circumstances; and enable the court to assess different cost elements together to ensure that the costs are proportionate and reasonable.

The measures, if accepted, would be implemented by way of amendments to the Civil Procedure Rules, practice directions and protocols, as appropriate.

Copies of the consultation paper have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The paper is also available on the Ministry of Justice website at www.justice.gov.uk. Copies have also been made available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. The consultation period will close on 6 May.