No defamation claim should cost more than a home

By Nuffield Foundation

The high cost of libel claims and the length of the legal progress is preventing both claimants and defendants from asserting their legal rights, according to a report published today by the Alternative Libel Project and funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

The report is the result of a year-long inquiry into alternatives to the current system of resolving libel claims through the High Court. It recommends wider use of quicker and cheaper methods, such as mediation, arbitration and early neutral evaluation. It advocates capping the costs of a libel claim at a level equal to that of the average UK house price, as well as allowing the court to protect people with few resources from having to pay the other side’s costs even if they lose.

The Alternative Libel Project is a partnership between Index on Censorship and English PEN, and has been assisted by an advisory committee of experienced professionals, chaired by Sir Stephen Sedley, a former Lord Justice of Appeal. Its report is particularly pertinent in a week when the issue of access to justice is the subject of fierce debate in the House of Lords.

Recommendations include ensuring that the court encourages parties to use alternative forms of dispute resolution and penalises those who unreasonably refuse to do so. Alongside this, the government should give courts the mandate to manage the evidence and argument allowed in defamation cases in a robust manner. It should also introduce rules enabling a hearing to determine the meaning of the alleged defamatory words to be determined independent of a full claim for libel.

Alternative methods include mediation, which the Inquiry found had a success rate of over 90% in defamation claims, and arbitration, which works well to resolve key issues at the outset. Early neutral evaluation has the potential to help claims settle when neither mediation nor arbitration is suitable.

Jo Glanville, Editor of Index on Censorship said:

“NGOs, scientists, journalists, publishers, comedians, bloggers and many others have all experienced the chilling effect that the cost of a libel case has on freedom of speech. The procedure needs to change so this does not continue. Alternative forms of dispute resolution, such as mediation, need to be use much more often and the court ought to use is powers to redress inequality of arms between the parties.”

Jonathan Heawood, Director of English PEN said:

“Procedure and costs rules need to change for defamation claims. There is no good reason why a libel trial should ever cost more than the average house price in the UK. Costs of this level are still beyond the means of most people in this country – hence our other recommendations – but it would mark a massive reduction on today’s eye-popping costs.”

Related


By Nuffield Foundation

Explore our projects

Empty-street-with-cyclist-and-pedestrian-in-distance-Law-and-compliance-during-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Justice | 2020 - 2021

Law and compliance during COVID-19

View project
In progress

Justice | 2020 - 2022

Youth custody: Educational influences and labour market consequences

View project
Serious-teenage-girl-gestures-as-sits-on-couch-in-school-counselor-office-Mental-health-service-provision-for-children-state-care-England-PROJ
New

Justice | 2020 - 2021

Mental health service provision for children in state care in England

View project
In progress

Justice | 2019 - 2022

Understanding criminogenic influences on youth offending

View project
In progress

Justice | 2019 - 2021

The Edinburgh Study: causes and impacts of criminal justice pathways

View project
In progress

Justice | Welfare | 2019 - 2021

Girls and women with experience of care and the criminal justice system

View project
In progress

Justice | 2019 - 2022

Access to justice for social rights: addressing the accountability gap

View project
In progress

Justice | Welfare | 2018 - 2020

The implementation of new rules and guidance for permanent foster care

View project
Woman-carries-daughter-to-council-house-COVID-19-families-low-income-poverty-in-pandemic-PROJ
Reported

Justice | 2018 - 2020

Paths to administrative justice in Wales

View project
In progress

Justice | Welfare | 2018 - 2021

System conditions and welfare inequalities in children’s services

View project
In progress

Justice | Welfare | 2018 - 2020

Looked after children grown up

View project
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2018 - 2019

Pathways of incarcerated children in care

View project
Serious-teenage-girl-gestures-as-sits-on-couch-in-school-counselor-office-Mental-health-service-provision-for-children-state-care-England-PROJ
New

Justice | 2020 - 2021

Mental health service provision for children in state care in England

View project
In progress

Justice | 2020 - 2022

Youth custody: Educational influences and labour market consequences

View project
Empty-street-with-cyclist-and-pedestrian-in-distance-Law-and-compliance-during-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Justice | 2020 - 2021

Law and compliance during COVID-19

View project
In progress

Justice | 2019 - 2022

Understanding criminogenic influences on youth offending

View project
In progress

Justice | 2019 - 2021

The Edinburgh Study: causes and impacts of criminal justice pathways

View project
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2015 - 2018

Bridging the Evidence Gap in Family Proceedings

View project
Reported

Justice | 2016 - 2018

The impact of Litigants in Person on the Northern Ireland court system

View project
Reported

Justice | 2016 - 2017

Transparency and privacy in family courts

View project
Reported

Justice | 2017 - 2020

Enhancing problem-solving practice in youth court

View project
Reported

Justice | 2016 - 2019

Implementation of recommendations of the Carlile report

View project
In progress

Justice | 2013 - 2019

Timely disclosures mean timely interventions for young offenders and victims

View project
Reported

Justice | 2008 - 2012

The impact of anti-social behaviour interventions on young people

View project
Empty-street-with-cyclist-and-pedestrian-in-distance-Law-and-compliance-during-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Justice | 2020 - 2021

Law and compliance during COVID-19

View project
In progress

Justice | 2020 - 2022

Youth custody: Educational influences and labour market consequences

View project
Serious-teenage-girl-gestures-as-sits-on-couch-in-school-counselor-office-Mental-health-service-provision-for-children-state-care-England-PROJ
New

Justice | 2020 - 2021

Mental health service provision for children in state care in England

View project
In progress

Justice | 2019 - 2022

Understanding criminogenic influences on youth offending

View project
In progress

Justice | 2019 - 2021

The Edinburgh Study: causes and impacts of criminal justice pathways

View project
In progress

Justice | 2019 - 2022

Access to justice for social rights: addressing the accountability gap

View project
In progress

Justice | Welfare | 2019 - 2021

Girls and women with experience of care and the criminal justice system

View project
In progress

Justice | Welfare | 2018 - 2020

The implementation of new rules and guidance for permanent foster care

View project
In progress

Justice | Welfare | 2018 - 2021

System conditions and welfare inequalities in children’s services

View project
In progress

Justice | Welfare | 2018 - 2020

Looked after children grown up

View project
In progress

Justice | 2017 - 2020

The Mental Health MHTS For Scotland

View project
In progress

Justice | Welfare | 2017 - 2020

Birth fathers’ recurrent appearance in care proceedings

View project
Woman-carries-daughter-to-council-house-COVID-19-families-low-income-poverty-in-pandemic-PROJ
Reported

Justice | 2018 - 2020

Paths to administrative justice in Wales

View project
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2018 - 2019

Pathways of incarcerated children in care

View project
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2017 - 2018

Visualising data in care proceedings

View project
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2017 - 2018

Addressing the ‘care cases’ crisis: a sector-led review

View project
Reported

Justice | 2017 - 2019

Immigration judicial reviews

View project
Couple of African descent attends couples counselling to discuss finding fault in divorce
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2017 - 2020

Pensions on divorce interdisciplinary working group

View project
Siblings play ball in a playground - Siblings Contact and the Law
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2017 - 2019

Siblings, contact and the law: an overlooked relationship?

View project
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2017 - 2019

Measuring outcomes for children’s social care services

View project
Reported

Justice | 2017 - 2020

Enhancing problem-solving practice in youth court

View project
Reported

Justice | 2016 - 2018

The dissemination of lessons from research to the Judiciary

View project
Reported

Justice | 2016 - 2018

The impact of Litigants in Person on the Northern Ireland court system

View project
Reported

Justice | 2016 - 2017

Transparency and privacy in family courts

View project
Search projects

We improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We offer our grant-holders the freedom to frame questions and enable new thinking. Our research must stand up to rigorous academic scrutiny, but we understand that to be successful in effecting change, it also needs to be relevant to people’s experience.

Profile