Early Resolution, a new not-for-profit company which aims to provide quick and cheap solutions to libel actions, is launched today.
Behind Early Resolution is Alastair Brett, former legal manager of The Times and Sunday Times, and retired High Court judge Sir Charles Gray.
The scheme offers a voluntary binding arbitration process for parties to libel disputes, enabling them to resolve key issues quickly and confidentially, avoiding the cost and delay of High Court proceedings.
Brett writing in MediaGuardian today looks at a scenario where a regional paper is threatened with a legal action following a investigation into a local mosque.
He says Early Resolution would try to bring the parties in a libel action together to work out key issues such as "meaning" or "identity" or whether the words complained of are a matter of honest comment or statement of fact.
Brett addss the Early Resolution scheme could cost a paper about £2,500 but "it may avoid the cost of a high court claim form (around £1,500), the cost of drafting a defence (another £2,000), and what might be endless, hugely expensive applications to the high court (never under £10,000-£15,000) over the Particulars of Justification. What is more, if the action went to a full jury trial it could cost the newspaper hundreds of thousands, if not a million, pounds."
He has told the Law Society Gazette: "The Draft Defamation Bill fails to include procedural reforms to force parties to resolve key issues at the start of a libel action.
"However, our voluntary scheme will at least go some way to speeding up dispute resolution and avoiding the crippling bills that High Court procedures currently entail."
The process is intended to take no more than 28 days from the date on which both sides sign an arbitration agreement.
- The Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom has suggested Libel Tribunals should be established to arbitrate in defamation cases.