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Lords back libel fee cut

30 March 2010

The House of Lords has approved a statutory instrument cutting the maximum success fees of libel lawyers in conditional fee cases from 100 to ten per cent of damages.

Justice minister Lord Bach agreed that the Conditional Fee Agreements (Amendment) Order 2010 should be reviewed after 12 months, following concerns raised by Lord Scott, the former law lord, and Lord Woolf, the former Lord Chief Justice.

“Ten per cent is, with respect, a ridiculous rate,” Lord Scott said. “It would deny access to justice to a whole range of people who will not be able to afford to litigate.

“It would be a denial of the whole purpose of the civil justice system, which is to discourage self-help. It would also be apt to promote a deserved disrespect for the law.”

Lord Woolf questioned whether the dangers of reducing the uplift from 100 per cent to a maximum of ten per cent would not have “very damaging effects“ on claimants.

Former Speaker of the Commons Lord Martin tabled a motion to ensure there was a debate on the measure.

Lawyers for Media Standards (LMS), which was set up in January by mainly claimant libel lawyers, has threatened justice secretary Jack Straw with a judicial review over his handling of the consultation.

Steven Heffer, head of media at Collyer Bristow and solicitor for LMS, said approval of the measure was “shameful” and “shows that the government is being directed by the interests of the powerful media lobby in the run-up to the election”.

He went on: “It signals the end of CFAs in libel claims and leaves those defamed with little prospect of a remedy. The libel courts will once again be the preserve only of the rich and powerful.”

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