Lord Pannick: Commons Must Overturn IP Bill Costs Sanctions Amendment

Lord Pannick QC has written a strong defence of press freedom, in which he voices his opposition to costs sanctions which would see newspapers forced to pay the costs of claimants even if they were unsuccessful in libel or privacy actions.

Writing in The Times today, Lord Pannick urged MPs to vote down a Lords amendment to the Investigatory Bills which would bring costs sanctions against newspapers into force when it comes before the Commons for a second time next week.  

Lord Pannick wrote: “There are three reasons why the Commons should overturn the Lords amendment on this subject. First, because the Commons should reject the Lords’ attempt to hold such an important bill hostage on issues of press regulation that are far from central to the bill’s purposes.

“The second reason is that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Karen Bradley, announced last week that there will be a ten-week consultation on whether Section 40 should be implemented. The merits and disadvantages of Section 40 can be argued in the consultation. Some critics of the press have complained about delay since 2013. But Section 40 does not apply until an approved regulator is recognised by the independent Press Recognition Panel. That occurred only on October 25 when Impress was approved.

“The third reason why the Lords’ amendment should be removed is that implementing Section 40 would make no sense. It was the product of a late-night deal by the coalition government and the Labour opposition after the Leveson Report into the appalling conduct by some journalists. But the landscape has changed since 2013.

“Most national newspapers (including this one) have agreed to regulation by a new body, Ipso. Its chairman, Sir Alan Moses, is a robustly independent former Court of Appeal judge. Last month Sir Joseph Pilling (a distinguished former civil servant) published his review of Ipso, finding it effective and independent. By contrast, Impress, the official regulator, is an empress with no empire. No national newspapers and few local journals have signed up. An organisation that regulates Your Thurrock, but few others, and has no track record, cannot command confidence about the quality of the regulation it will provide.

“Press freedom far is too important for the state to insist on such official regulation. If Section 40 were to be brought into force, newspapers would have a choice of agreeing  to regulation by an, as yet, unimpressive Impress or facing costs risks that would, in practice, make it impossible for local and national newspapers to take the risk of publishing investigative journalism into the activities of litigious people, or doing other than settle their claims when proceedings are brought. And all because some newspapers carried out phone-hacking and other actions already unlawful in civil and criminal law.”