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No happy ending: Media lawyers wary of new arbitration scheme for newspapers

In the latest development post-Leveson, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) has launched a year-long arbitration scheme for major national newspapers.

The Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution will run the pilot arbitration scheme, which was a recommendation of the 2012 Leveson report.

National newspapers signed up to the scheme include the Daily Mirror, the Daily Express, the Daily Telegraph, the Times, the Daily Mail and the Sun, as well as the news agency the Press Association and Conde Nast UK magazines.

Claims will cost £300 if the matter is decided in a preliminary ruling, or £2,800 to take the claim to a full hearing, with claimants covering their own legal costs. The maximum damages to be handed out by publishers under the arbitration is capped at £50,000.

City partners welcomed the launch of the arbitration scheme in the aftermath of the Leveson report, but remained unconvinced of the potential effectiveness of the IPSO-led scheme.

Osborne Clarke media litigation partner Ashley Hurst told Legal Business: ‘In theory an arbitration scheme for publication claims is a great idea to try to reduce litigation costs and settle claims early. However, the reality is that most of the libel, privacy, and data protection cases that fight beyond the pre-action stage are either factually or legally complex.

‘It will therefore be interesting to see whether the IPSO arbitration scheme will have the necessary resources and case management rules to reduce costs and delay in those cases. I suspect we will still see QCs going head to head in the complex cases.’

Withers head of media and reputation Amber Melville-Brown said the desire of IPSO to implement an arbitration scheme for newspapers stemmed from a need to present itself as the main press regulator.

While the Guardian, Financial Times, Independent and Evening Standard have their own complaints handling practices, a separate regulator, IMPRESS, has signed up a number of other independent publications.

IPSO chairman Sir Alan Moses said the use of arbitration was not only to reduce the costs and delays of litigation, but also to improve access to justice for members of the public challenging the media.

Moses said: ‘They need a means whereby they can vindicate their legal rights without going to court. At the core of IPSO’s work is our support for claimants who feel wronged by the press and this pilot is part of this provision.’

But Melville-Brown told Legal Business: ‘A year down the line will this scheme have made a difference? Or will the public remain misinformed and misled, savaged and abused by the worst excesses of the press? My money would be on this not resulting in a happy ending.’

Read more on media law in: ‘Shock and Flaw – is Leveson workable?’