Defamation. Peers vote for Low cost Arbritration service.

In a massive defeat for the government, Ministers were taken by surprise as peers voted by 272 to 141 to introduce a low-cost arbitration system for victims of press defamation, one of the key recommendations of the Leveson report. Newspapers that do not join the system will face higher damages if they are found to have defamed litigants.

Lord Puttnam, the Labour peer introduced the amendment in response to the Leveson Report’s recommendations in the debate of the Defamation Bill at report stage on 5th February 2013.

The amendment states that the Lord Chief Justice will establish a Defamation Recognition Commission. The Defamation Recognition Commission will certify Independent Regulatory Boards and such a board will then provide a recognised arbitration service.

The courts will then take into account when awarding costs and damages whether either claimant or defendant in a dispute has not used the arbitration service of an Independent Regulatory Board.

The court shall then award costs on an indemnity basis unless the interests of justice require otherwise.

The courts may order a successful party to pay all the costs of proceedings if such party has unreasonably refused to use an available recognised arbitration service.

A court awarding in its judgment exemplary damages where a defendant is guilty of a flagrant breach of a defendants rights, can also take into account whether—

(a) a claimant refused to use a recognised arbitration service;

(b) a defendant refused to use or join a recognised arbitration service;

(c) the court shall also take into account whether a defendant first sought advice from a recognised Independent Regulatory Board before publication.

Unless  the Prime minister persuades the Commons to overturn the amendment, it will become law when the Defamation Bill gets royal assent. There is likely to be much support in the commons for such an amendment. The alternative would be for the Government to withdraw the Bill in its entirety which would be a drastic step.


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