Thursday, 16 June 2011

CPBF: 'Tribunals best way to reform libel laws'

The Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom is calling for Libel Tribunals to be established which would have the power to require publication of corrections and apologies as a “right of reply” as well as or instead of damages.

The call comes in a submission by the CPBF to the consultation by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Defamation Bill in which it describes the Press Complaints Commission as "a creature of the owners of the national press."

It claims: "The establishment of a process to facilitate the early resolution of defamation cases is a much-needed initiative. Although it is often said that English defamation law is faulty, most of the abuses have in fact arisen from current practice rather than the development of the common law. Costs and delays are the major problems. A process that could provide faster and cheaper redress would be highly beneficial.

"Of the suggested alternatives, a Libel Tribunal is the best option. Individuals who consider they have been maligned in the media do not want cases to drag on for years. They are generally less interested in money awarded by the courts than in the righting of a wrong and the restitution of their good names.

"The High Court is not the ideal place to settle such disputes. The alternative currently offered, as far as the press is concerned at least, is the Press Complaints Commission, but the PCC cannot offer any effective remedy.

"It is a creature of the owners of the national press whose fundamental remit is to minimise the damage caused by their excesses; its refusal to take action over the News of the World phone-hacking scandal is timely evidence of that.

"From time to time the PCC tinkers with its procedures but there is no prospect of significant reform as long as it is financed and controlled by the publishers. This rules out a self-regulatory 'informal resolution procedures' option, which would leave the courts as the alternative, so a new approach is badly needed."

The CPBF argues that the new tribunal system should be modelled on the Employment Tribunal. It claims "deadlines would be tighter, costs would be limited, and most importantly the Tribunal should have the power to order publications to print corrections or apologies, the texts to be negotiated between the parties for endorsement by the Tribunal."

It suggests the Tribunal chair would be a judge or senior lawyer, with lay representatives appointed from the publishers and civil society, including the media unions, as with Employment Tribunals.

The CPBF says a Libel Tribunal could cover all media, not just newspapers, which is the PCC’s remit. "It could offer redress to those with actions against broadcasting and the internet," the submission says.

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