But figures still above pre-CFA levels
The number of reported defamation court cases declined over the past year, statistics from Sweet & Maxwell’s online legal information services reveal. The figures, drawn from Lawtel & Westlaw UK, show that reported defamation cases reaching court fell from 85 in the year to end of May 2004 to 66 in the year to end of May 2005.
This follows a peak of 96 in the year to end of May 2000 (which represented a 78% jump from just 54 the previous year), making the total decline since then almost a third. The fall may be due to the wider case management powers available to judges since the Woolf reforms, the effect of the Reynolds judgment, increased use of the offer of amends procedure, or a decline in the popularity of conditional fee agreements (CFAs), the introduction of which is largely thought to have been responsible for the increase in 1999-2000. Although they show a decrease, the figures are still significantly above their pre-CFA levels.
Although fewer claims may be reaching court, it seems more are being brought. Brian Johnson of Farrer & Co was quoted in The Times as saying that there had been a huge rise in the number of defamation claims lodged in the High Court, from 128 for 2002 to 267 last year.