Revisions to MST submission to Jackson consultation on civil litigation costs

We have made some changes to the Media Standards Trust submission to the Jackson Consultation and re-submitted it. These do not alter the substance of the argument within the submission but are important clarifications.

We have removed Simon Singh’s name from the MST submission at his request. Though Simon did receive some help from a CFA, this was only late in the process and was only partial, coming after he had already incurred significant costs. You can read his account of the role the CFA played in his case on his blog.

Hardeep Singh has written that ‘my access to justice would have been impossible without CFAs’ (Index on Censorship, 4th March 2011). However, the CFA certainly did not cover all his costs. He has personally incurred legal costs of around £100,000. It is also important to note that he was acting alone – as a freelance – and was not supported by the paper that published his article (the Sikh Times). Our submission now makes these additional points clear.

We have also included a quote from Mark Lewis, solicitor at Taylor Hampton, about the importance of CFAs to two of his clients, Professor Peter Wilmshurst and Nigel Short:

CFAs are used by defendants as well as claimants… One of the main cases that underlines the need for libel reform is that of Dr Peter Wilmshurst, who is being sued by the American medical company NMT (Medical) Inc. It is only because of CFAs that Wilmshurst can defend himself. The report that launched Libel Reform featured Dr Wilmshurst and the Sheffield Wednesday fan, Nigel Short. The Wilmshurst case is continuing, Nigel Short was defended successfully with CFA funding. Without CFAs Nigel would have been forced to capitulate and Peter Wilmshurst would be forced into defending himself (Mark Lewis, Law Gazette, 7-02-11).

There are many other cases we could have referred to in the submission but did not. For example, the bus driver who, The Sun inaccurately reported, ordered passengers off his bus so that he could pray. He fought his case on a CFA and won. The newspaper ‘accepted that the allegations were entirely false and that Raulynaitis [the driver] did not order any passengers off, there was no rucksack and no one refused to reboard because they feared he was a fanatic’ (from report of the case).

For both claimants and defendants the question is the same – if you do not have the means to defend yourself, should there be access to financial support – such as a Conditional Fee Agreements?

We believe the answer to this question is yes. We believe that those who seek to defend themselves against powerful media organisations or threats of libel should not be blocked from access to justice because they lack the requisite financial means. We think that, as they stand, the Jackson recommendations will prevent access to justice by effectively killing off CFAs.