Libel lawyers’ ‘success fees’ to be cut by 90% to aid investigative journalism

Lawyers who sue the media will see their fees cut by 90 percent under plans set out by the government Tuesday to bring down the cost of libel actions. Under the current system, lawyers can claim in “success fees” what their clients have been awarded in damages. But under proposals from the justice secretary, Jack Straw, they will only be able to seek 10 percent of this amount. Ministers see this as one way of stopping the cost of defending a libel action spiralling out of control. “Evidence suggests that the regular doubling of fees that currently takes place is simply not justified and the balance of costs between claimant and defendant needs to be reconsidered,” Straw said. Straw, who said there was “growing concern” about the cost of libel cases, announced the proposals less than a week after a report from a court of appeal judge, Sir Rupert Jackson, on the cost of all civil court proceedings. His 557-page report described the civil costs as “disproportionate and excessive”, singling out media law as one of the areas where costs were highest. Jackson said that media organisations regularly paid four times the cost of damages in libel cases because of the success fees charged by lawyers and the insurance fees.


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