The Ministry of Justice (under the dead eyes of Chris ‘Fishbrain’ Grayling) has been doing some gentle toe-dipping in the murky waters of
nuisance litigants fine upstanding Peers of the Realm who like threatening Tweeters and then backing away whenever somebody challenges them.
The main thing putting off the likes of Ali McAlpiavelli at the moment is the somewhat huge (and entirely sensible) cost of suing everyone willy-nilly and then losing. The whole idea of this cost penalty was designed to discourage vexatious libel claims brought by people miffed by others having discovered their criminal pasts, day-trips to Amsterdam, distant family skeletons and so forth.
But what the Government is proposing in future defamation cases is that the costs of he or she who sues a medium should be given – lovely Orwellian phrase this one – ‘one party protection in relation to their liability for the other side’s costs in defamation cases’. The ‘one party’ concerned, spookily, is the needy whingeling who thinks he or she has been defamed. Or put another way, carte blanche for every Jeremy, Boris and Leon to chuck writs about without fear of loss.
Perhaps one could call this another step along the road to a One Party State. Perhaps one could call it stupid. I would call it another irresponsibly nasty way to produce the sort of “business friendly” society Tim ‘Taxis’ Yeo would just love to see where the lady atop the Old Bailey see her scales suddenly swoop further still towards the advantage of the powerful.
Encouragingly, Media-specialist legal firm Wiggin have called this crude wheeze out, specifically telling MoJ Sir Humphreys that “costs protection in defamation cases could end with serious consequences for small online publishers” nudge-nudge, aka bloggers and investigative websites.
To their eternal credit, Wiggin have been seriously smart here. They invested in a public attitude survey, which showed that – under the new Grayling proposals – those likely to sue for defamation would rise from 39% to 64%.
Commenting on the attitude study (which questioned 2,018 adults between 18-20th October 2013) Wiggin partner Caroline Kean said: ‘Our opinion poll indicates that the government’s proposals could lead to a potential increase in unmeritorious and even vexatious claims being brought. We have found that a significant proportion of people who would not have otherwise brought a claim, would be willing to ‘have a go’ because the risk of having to pay both sides’ costs is removed.”
Which is, of course, exactly what the Government wants. We should all raise a glass to Ms Kean tonight. And another to Slogger Drew, whose eyes alighted upon this calumny in the Law Society Gazette.
It is saying something, is it not, that the second you take your eyes off these nasty, grubby little people, they’re at it….at our expense. When it comes to the matter of Westminster vengeance, only eternal vigilance will do.