Victims of media intrusion and nefarious journalistic practices, including phone hacking, were left disappointed yet again by the Government on Friday 30 November 2018. The Government announced a sudden end to recoverability of success fees under Conditional Fee Agreements (CFAs) in defamation and privacy claims, while the day before the Lord Justice Davis in the High Court dismissed press victims’ plea to review the cancellation of part two of the Leveson Inquiry which was to investigate unlawful conduct by media organisations and relations between law enforcement and the press.
No more success fees
Following recommendations in the 2012 Leveson Report for a regime providing for costs protection for press victims, the ability to recover success fees in media-related claims was protected while other forms of civil litigation saw recovery of success fees abolished under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
That protection has now been removed, effective from 6 April 2019, with no alternative being proposed by this Government and little notice being given. The nature of CFA work is such that without the ability to recover a success fee from media defendants, some firms may be unwilling to take on press victims who cannot afford the upfront legal costs. Hamlins will continue to act on this basis following their usual assessment of the merits of each case.
Little hope for Leveson Two
Meanwhile in the High Court, press victims’ bid to revive Leveson Two was thrown out by Lord Justice Davis, presiding on Thursday 29 November.
A judicial review was brought by Christopher Jefferies, Kate and Gerry McCann and Jacqui Hames in light of the Government’s announcement earlier this year that a second part to the Leveson inquiry would not be going ahead.
Speaking in the House of Commons in November 2012, David Cameron stated that the Government intended to open a second part to the Inquiry which would deal with unlawful conduct by media organisations as well as relations between police and the press. Cut to March 2018, citing the “costly and time-consuming” nature of part one of the Inquiry, then-culture secretary Matt Hancock dismissed a need for a part two, stating “the world has changed” since Leveson, referring to changes in press self-regulation and reforms in policing practices. This was in contrary to High Court Judge Sir Brian Leveson’s own views that he “fundamentally disagreed” that part two of the Inquiry was not necessary.
Stating he had “a great deal of sympathy” for the victims, and acknowledging David Cameron’s plain statement in 2012 before the Commons that part two would materialise, Davis LJ found the matter to be “macro political” in nature and held that the victims’ legitimate expectation of a follow up to part one of the Inquiry could not be enforced by the Courts.
These blows to press victims land as Theresa May’s Brexit terms are finalised, rendering the Government in vital need of an agreeable press.
Hamlins continues to act for victims of defamation, press harassment and invasions of privacy. If you are in need of assistance in this regard, please contact Christopher Hutchings or Callum Galbraith.