You have until 10th January to respond to the consultation on Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, the regulation that most journalists think will destroy press freedom. The rule would force Newspapers that refuse arbitration through an approved regulator to pay the legal fees of those suing them even if they win.
But that’s not really why the press are angry, even though everyone says it is. The reason the press are going nuts about this is because the regulator they setup the Independent Press Complaints Organisation (IPSO) would only become an approved arbitrator if it is overseen by a Quango called the Press Recognition Panel (PRP)… something widely (and rightly) seen as dangerous.
IPSO has a rival regulator called Impress, which claims to be independent but in reality it is entirely funded by Max Mosley, who does have an axe to grind. It seems to be largely staffed by people who hate Paul Dacre and the Daily Mail, and is supported by the film stars of Hacked Off.
Impress has approval from the PRP that IPSO refuse to apply for. So if Section 40 is approved, ISPO will need its own approval or outlets will have to join Impress or those outlets will be liable for the full costs of all litigation.
There is no redress of grievance for ordinary people.
If you are the ‘little guy’ and you are defamed by a UK Newspaper you will need at least £100k to sue through the High Court. If you do not start proceedings in one year then those allegations, true or not, can be repeated forever by others. Those of us who are not millionaires effectively convict ourselves of the allegations against us because we cannot afford to challenge them in time.
IPSO does not exist to redress grievance, it exists to make it look like there is a system to protect ordinary people. Despite bizarre claims to the contrary IPSO has the same company number (and many of the same staff) as the discredited Press Complaints Commission. This means it is legally the same organisation.
Does that really fill you with optimism?
Equally putting Max Mosley and a government Quango in the driving seat over an issue of free speech is madness. No fair minded person would want to lose the check and balance the press bring to our system in this way.
My view is the PRP, Impress and IPSO should all be abolished, and Section 40 should be dropped. Because we need to give ordinary people a real chance at justice. Impress and IPSO have an agenda, and that agenda has nothing to do with the people they claim to serve.
It is time to allow people to sue for libel and privacy in a court they can afford. I think that is the County Court, where cases can be started cheaply and without any real need for legal representation.
Most people just want articles pulled and a small amount of money to cover their costs. County Courts could easily cater for this, no need for £100k legal bills, but no desire for £100k settlements either.
In the debate about which regulator should rule the roost no-one is looking out for you. If you respond to the consultation you might want to make the point that ordinary people need access to justice.