Richard Wilson's blog

richardcameronwilson AT yahoo dot co dot UK

“Justice” Jackson’s charlatan’s charter – a self-serving stitch-up by our bloated legal establishment

with 7 comments

It’s widely acknowledged that one fundamental problem with our draconian libel system is that it’s possible for a defendant to win their case in court, yet still lose thousands of pounds through unrecovered costs.

This effectively gives the super-rich an absolute right to impose what amounts to an arbitrary fine on anyone who criticises them – even when those criticisms are totally justified.

The ‘paradigm case’, (to borrow a phrase from today’s extraordinarily ill-conceived report by Lord “Justice” Jackson), is that of vitamin salesman and AIDS denialist Matthias Rath, who sued the Guardian  newspaper and Ben Goldace after they pointed out some uncomfortable truths about Rath’s activities in South Africa. Rath lost the case in court, and the defendants were fully vindicated, yet the Guardian still lost over £100,000.

Justice Jackson has today proposed to make the situation even worse. Under the current system, successful defendants are at least able to recover a portion of their costs. Jackson – after consulting closely with, among others, members of the legal profession who benefit so handsomely from the current system – wants to change things around so that the defendant can recover nothing. Even if the overall burden of costs is reduced from its current extraordinarily high level, a defendant who has been found wholly innocent of the alleged libel will still end up thousands of pounds out of pocket.

To a rich, titled, former high court judge such as Lord Jackson, this may seem like a trifling matter. But to a writer or academic faced with the threat of a crippling libel suit by a powerful multi-national simply for speaking the truth about their activities, this will, in even more cases than now, mean that they have little choice  but to settle the case out of court and issue a grovelling apology, even when the truth of the alleged defamation is clearly demonstrable.

Under the changes recommended by Justice Jackson, rich liars and charlatans will now find it even easier to suppress legitimate criticisms of their behaviour – and unscrupulous law firms will continue to profit as a result. Even more libel defendants than under the current system will effectively be denied their right to a fair trial. Even more than now, freedom of speech will be the exclusive preserve of the rich. It’s difficult to believe that it could not have occurred to “Justice” Jackson that this would be the effect of what he is proposing.

The Committee that drew up the report can be contacted here.

Written by Richard Wilson

January 14, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Posted in Don't Get Fooled Again

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7 Responses

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  1. Thanks for letting us know about this. Old fool!

    Calumcarr

    January 15, 2010 at 3:54 pm

  2. Not quite.

    He refers to “qualified costs shifting” (pg. xvii), i.e. claimant would have to pay costs if the case justified it based on their actions, but as a general rule they’d no longer be liable for the defendant’s costs.

    D-Notice

    January 20, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    • I could be missing something here but if, as a general rule, the claimant isn’t going to be liable for the defendant’s costs, then how can this mean anything else but that, as a general rule, the defendant will be?

      Full text from page 19 of the PDF:

      By “qualified” one way costs shifting I mean that the claimant will not be required to pay the defendant’s costs if the claim is unsuccessful, but the defendant will be required to pay the claimant’s costs if it is successful. The qualifications to this are that unreasonable (or otherwise unjustified) party behaviour may lead to a different costs order, and the financial resources available to the parties may justify there being two way costs shifting in particular cases.

      Why should an innocent defendant who’s won their case have to pay their own costs in any situation? If they win the case, they’ve been vindicated – the claim was unjustified. Yet they’re still left out of pocket – ie. effectively smacked with an arbitrary fine.

      While it’s obviously good that his Honour is prepared to envisage the possibility of exceptions if the claimant is being a total goon – or where the defendant is demonstrably skint, this still seems completely unfair on innocent defendants who have some financial resources and are unlucky enough to be sued unsuccessfully by someone who manages to behave themselves enough in court not to incur the judge’s wrath.

      Those exceptions also seem to leave an awful lot up to the judge’s discretion. It just isn’t good enough to say that maybe, if the judge feels like it, the defendant may in some cases be able to get back their own costs if the case against them fails.
      In order to get a fair trial, you need legal representation, and this costs money. If at the end of that trial you’ve been found to be innocent of the alleged offence, then your costs need to become the problem of the person who dragged you into court on bogus grounds – or failing that the state that allowed the situation to arise in the first place. To allow anything else is to allow the libel law to continue to be used as a mechanism for imposing arbitrary punishments on people who criticise the rich and vexatious…

      Richard Wilson

      January 20, 2010 at 10:48 pm

      • Just to clarify, I’m not saying I support his proposal. It’s my view that the loser should be liable for the winner’s costs, for the reasons you give.

        However, Courts *already* have a discretion as to costs (see Part 44.3 of the Civil Procedure Rules http://www.justice.gov.uk/civil/procrules_fin/contents/parts/part44.htm#IDADESZ), and they already have to take into account the parties’ conduct (CPR 44.3(4), so we can see the basis for his views. Whether they should be followed on this particular matter is another question.

        I also feel that making success fees unrecoverable will have a big impact from a defendant’s POV as solicitors & barristers will be under more pressure to ensure that they don’t take on cases that have little/no hope of getting anywhere, as – from experience of dealing with legal costs – it’ll be more difficult to make up the lost time/effort which success fees do. Making ATE premiums also unrecoverable will also help out defendants as these things can run into thousands of pounds, on top of everything else.

        D-Notice

        January 20, 2010 at 11:38 pm

  3. [Off topic, but I am sure you will appreciate the significance of this issue]

    A British blogger has been intimidated by the police. The Reverend Stephen Sizer didn’t like comments and criticism made on the Seismic Shock blog, so got the police to physically intimidate the blogger, to take down that mild criticism.

    This is a clear freedom of speech issue, the police should not be used to intimidate bloggers.

    I urge you to publicise this issue and support Seismic Shock, as “I too am Seismic Shock”

    For more information see http://modernityblog.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/reverend-stephen-sizer-uses-british-police-against-a-blogger/

    And http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/anglican-vicar-uses-police-to-intimidate-blogger/

    modernityblog

    January 24, 2010 at 1:16 am

    • Thanks for letting me know – definitely a worrying development if this is what’s been happening. Have put it on Twitter and dropped a line to Reverend Sizer to get his side of the story. Will blog about this later…

      Richard Wilson

      January 24, 2010 at 10:56 am

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