Procedure Group calls for defamation reform

Early Resolution Procedure Group chaired by Sir Charles Gray publishes report

A procedural reform group chaired by 5RB’s Sir Charles Gray has published recommendations for procedural reform to achieve earlier and cheaper resolution of defamation claims.

The Early Resolution Procedure Group, whose barrister members were Adrienne Page QC and Jacob Dean of 5RB and Andrew Caldecott QC of 1 Brick Court, and whose secretary was former Times Newspapers Legal Manager Alastair Brett, has issued its report, entitled ‘Media Disputes & Civil Litigation Costs’.

The group, which was made up of a dozen or so senior practitioners in the field of media law, has made recommendations with the objective of enabling early resolution by Judge alone of disputes as to meaning and whether words are comment or fact.

The principal recommendation is to amend section 69 of the Supreme Court Act 1981 to provide that a judge may at any stage of an action for libel or slander decide the issue of what the material complained of means and the issue of whether or to what extent it comprises statements of fact or statements of opinion. Any such decision by a judge would, subject to appeal, be binding irrespective of whether other issues in the case were to be tried by jury. The report proposes detailed amendments to CPR Part 53 to give effect to such a procedural change.