Draft Defamation Bill is a welcome step in the right direction, says Hiscox

15th March 2011

Specialist media insurer welcomes proposed reform but calls for even greater focus on costs, strong case management and use of alternative dispute resolution

London, UK (15th March, 2011) – The long overdue draft Defamation Bill published today should be welcomed with open arms by the media. It represents a big stride forward and goes a long way to striking a better balance between protecting freedom of speech and reputations.

“The key to achieving the right balance between claimants and media defendants in libel cases is strong case management, cost control and greater use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). These have not been focused on enough in the proposals for reform”, said Ian Birdsey, Media and Technology Claims Manager at Hiscox. “For example, a new court procedure to resolve key preliminary issues at an early stage is not included in the draft Bill.”

The current regime ‘chills’ free speech and impedes responsible investigative journalism, according to Hiscox, who insure a range of media clients from local newspaper publishers to international broadcasters.

“For too long responsible investigative journalism has been impeded”, said Ian Birdsey. “Local, regional and national publishers and broadcasters alike have, to varying degrees, found that freedom of speech has been stifled by the current regime and the proposed reforms represent an important step in the right direction.”

“Hiscox has a great reputation for backing media clients on important points of principle”, added Suzanne Kemble, Head of Hiscox Media & Entertainment. “We are hopeful that the proposed reforms, if enacted, would enable our media clients confidently to defend unwarranted claims and back their responsible journalists and authors.”

The proposed reforms represent a step in the right direction and are likely to be welcomed by the media. A lot still rides on the wider but interlinked costs reforms being considered by the Government following Lord Justice Jackson’s proposals for reform of civil litigation funding and costs including conditional fee agreements (CFAs) and after the event insurance (ATE), a consultation process which Hiscox was involved in.

The proposed reforms introduce the three statutory defences of responsible publication, truth and honest opinion. They also introduce a single publication rule, address libel tourism and remove the presumption in favour of a jury trial. These reforms are to be welcomed. However, it is crucial that the following issues are addressed in the consultation and included in the final Bill to ensure that the right balance is finally struck between protecting freedom of speech on the one hand and reputations on the other:

  • Mandatory costs budgeting in all cases, extending the costs budgeting pilot which is due to end on 31 March 2011
  • Strong judicial case management including rigorous and detailed case management directions
  • The adoption of fixed costs for the initial pre-action and post-proceedings being issued at pleading stages (i.e. all stages prior to the first case management conference) and capped costs for all subsequent stages up to and including trial and/or
  • A new court procedure requiring the court to consider and summarily assess costs at each and every stage or proceedings
  • Radical reform requiring parties to use new forms of ADR and/or make settlement offers at an early stage
  • Extending the proposal to introduce a new court procedure to resolve key preliminary issues at an early stage, which has been included for consultation but not in the draft Bill
  • Affording greater protection to secondary publishers in relation to publication on the internet, in line with the exponential developments in technology made since the current Defamation Act was enacted in1996

ENDS

For further information please contact:

Ron Finlay 07779 013093 [email protected]  

About Hiscox

Hiscox, the international specialist insurer, is headquartered in Bermuda and listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE:HSX). There are three main underwriting parts of the Group - Hiscox London Market, Hiscox UK and Europe and Hiscox International. Hiscox London Market underwrites internationally traded business in the London Market - generally large or complex business which needs to be shared with other insurers or needs the international licences of Lloyd's. Hiscox UK and Hiscox Europe offer a range of specialist insurance for professionals and business customers, as well as high net worth individuals. Hiscox International includes operations in Bermuda, Guernsey and USA. Hiscox Insurance Company Limited, Hiscox Underwriting Limited, Hiscox Europe Underwriting Limited and Hiscox Syndicates Limited are authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority.

For further information, visit www.hiscox.com.


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