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Libel lawyers hit back on success fee cuts

23 March 2010

Libel lawyers working mainly for claimants have threatened justice secretary Jack Straw with a judicial review over his plans for a huge cut in success fees.

As first reported by Solicitors Journal, lawyers from 12 firms set up Lawyers for Media Standards (LMS) in January, to fight what they see as a politically inspired attempt by the government to ingratiate itself with the media before the election (see Solicitors Journal 154/3, 26 January 2010).

Media specialists Collyer Bristow sent a letter to Straw earlier this month on behalf of LMS, arguing that the four-week consultation period on proposals to reduce the maximum uplift on success fees in libel cases from 100 to only ten per cent of damages was unfair and inadequate.

Sarah Webb, head of media at Russell, Jones & Walker and a founder member of LMS, said the organisation had to act quickly.

“If you look at the list of attacks on defamation law in the past 12 months it is staggering,” she said. “The government is trying to rush this through before the election.”

Webb said LMS had set up a limited company called Lawyers for Media Rights, with her fellow partner Jeremy Clarke-Williams as director, specifically to fight the judicial review.

LMS was described as “an enigmatic group” by the Financial Times. “Once we get over this immediate hurdle, things will become less ‘enigmatic’,” said Webb.

She added that LMS hoped to create its own website and act as a counterweight to defendant-orientated associations.

The MoJ has described the cut in success fees as an “interim measure” while it considers Lord Justice Jackson’s report on civil litigation costs.

“Reducing the success fees charged by lawyers in no win, no fee defamation cases will help level the playing field so that scientists, journalists and writers can continue to publish articles which are in the public interest without incurring such disproportionate legal bills,” Straw said.

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