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Alternative dispute resolution for defamation

Researchers: Jonathan Heawood

Project overview

At present, libel claims are extremely expensive to bring or defend. This means that many journalists and other writers are unable to defend themselves against libel suits from rich claimants, even if they stand by what they have written. At the same time, individuals who have been unfairly smeared by large media outlets cannot afford to bring a libel case to court to restore their reputation.

This project is a feasibility study to investigate ways of resolving libel claims outside the High Court. It is hoped this will improve access to justice and clarify the relationship in English law between Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Index on Censorship and English PEN formed a working group to carry out the research, the Alternative Libel Project, which published its final report in March 2012.

Recommendations include:

  • The court should encourage parties to use alternative forms of dispute resolution and penalise those who unreasonably refuse to do so. Quicker and cheaper alternative methods are mediation, arbitration and early neutral evaluation.
  • 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 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.

Latest on this project


  • Jonathan Heawood
    English PEN, Free Word Centre

  • Director, Welfare
    Nuffield Foundation

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