Escalating Costs of Media Litigation Deny Access to Justice for Ordinary People

London, England – Media litigation in the English courts has become prohibitively expensive, leading to a lack of access to justice for ordinary individuals. The exorbitant costs associated with defending libel claims have a chilling effect on public debate and can bankrupt honest defendants. These costs deter media organizations from publishing important stories and restrict the ability of NGOs, freelance journalists, and victims of online smears to seek legal recourse.

Litigation in the media courts often exceeds £1 million ($1.35 million), with some cases costing considerably more than that. The process is complex and time-consuming, involving multiple procedural hearings before trial. The winner of the case is entitled to recover their legal costs from the losing party, resulting in both sides facing bills of well over £2 million ($2.7 million).

The consequences of this high cost barrier are evident. Ordinary people are left helpless when their reputations come under attack, and trolling and online harassment carry little risk. Furthermore, the media’s ability to afford accessing the courts directly impacts what is read and debated in the public sphere. Important stories, such as the infiltration of Russian oligarchs into British public life and the potential dangers in the construction industry before the Grenfell Tower disaster, have suffered from a lack of public scrutiny.

Efforts to address this issue have been made, with the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023 introducing reforms to protect against abusive claims related to economic crimes. However, the heart of the problem lies in the high costs of media litigation itself. To improve access to justice and foster a more robust public debate, structural changes are required.

One example of a successful approach is the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court (Ipec), which offers a streamlined and cost-capped process for intellectual property claims. Another model to consider is the English employment tribunal system, which resolves disputes at a fraction of the cost of media litigation. These courts prioritize public policy considerations and provide a more accessible avenue for individuals seeking justice.

To ensure a fair and affordable media litigation system, the British government should take advantage of the momentum around addressing abusive lawsuits and develop processes that promote proportionate resolution of media disputes. Only then can we improve public debate and ensure that justice is not an exclusive privilege for the wealthy.

In conclusion, the exorbitant costs associated with media litigation in the English courts hinder access to justice and undermine public debate. Structural changes are needed to make the system more affordable and accessible. By drawing inspiration from successful models like Ipec and the employment tribunal system, the government can help level the playing field and protect the wider public interest.