Select Committee report published

Press Standards, Privacy and Libel report advocates reform of media law

The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, chaired by John Whittingdale, has made wide-ranging recommendations for reforming media law in its report Press Standards, Privacy and Libel.

The Committee found that the current burden of proof in defamation actions is fair and should remain on the defendant at least as far as claims brought by individuals are concerned, but suggests that parliament should amend the law for corporate claimants. A new tort of "corporate defamation" would require corporations to prove actual damage before an action could be brought. Alternatively, the report suggests, corporate claimants could be restricted to relying on malicious falsehood actions.

In relation to internet libel, the report recommends a one-year limitation period, capable of extension if the claimant could satisfy the court that he or she could not reasonably have been aware of the existence of the publication. A claimant should however, be entitled to obtain a court order to correct a defamatory statement after expiry of the limitation period.

The Committee saw no justification for 100% success fees in CFA cases but said: "We do not agree with the Ministry of Justice that the maximum level of success fees should be capped at 10%, nor do we believe that success fees should become wholly irrecoverable from the losing party. However we would support the recoverability of such fees from the losing party being limited to 10% of costs leaving the balance to be agreed between solicitor and client."

The Committee did not consider that the time was right to legislate on privacy. Instead, the report recommends changes to the PCC Code which would require that journalists notify the subject of their articles prior to publication, subject to a “public interest” test. Pre-notification would not be mandatory, but a failure to do so should be an aggravating factor in assessing damages.

Other recommendations include:

  • The development of a fast track procedure for appeals from interim injunction decisions.
  • A one year limitation period for "electronic archives" unless a publisher fails to amend or flag the online version in response to a complaint.
  • A detailed consultation on the issue of a statutory responsible journalism defence.
  • Additional hurdles for claimants wishing to bring libel actions in this jurisdiction who are not domiciled, or do not carry on business in the UK.
  • Renaming the PCC the Press Complaints and Standards Commission and giving the regulator the power to fine its members and, in the most serious cases, suspend the printing of the offending publication for one issue.