Jack Straw critical of high costs

Justice Secretary tells MPs that high legal costs are having a 'chilling' effect on the media

Jack Straw yesterday gave evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport select committee yesterday as part of its inquiry into press standards, privacy and libel.  He told the committee that libel litigation costs for defendant newspapers were "ridiculous" and were having a "chilling effect" on the media, particularly regional and local papers.

He highlighted the case of a Lancashire paper, which offered an apology for what he said was a simple, innocent mistake at worst yet for which it faced not only having to pay damages, but ‘ridiculous’ costs.  Mr Straw added: "That is not the purpose of a CFA arrangement. A CFA arrangement is there to ensure better access to justice."

Lord Justice Jackson, however, who published his preliminary report on civil litigation costs last week, said that costs in defamation proceedings should not be dealt with in isolation from other costs in other civil proceedings.

"It is very important to look at the problems of cost holistically… We must deal with this problem in principle and across the board, and not embark on piecemeal reform for one tiny part of the civil litigation terrain which may perhaps have a slightly more vocal representation than others" he told the Committee.

Sir Antony Clarke, the Master of the Rolls, also gave evidence to the committee yesterday. He defended the use of ‘specialist’ judges in defamation and other areas, and the interpretation that judges had placed on the Human Rights Act and the balance between Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.