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Press watchdog looks at new arbitration body to handle media claims

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) has launched a three month consultation on creating a new arbitration scheme to settle defamation, privacy and other civil legal disputes with the press.

The press industry watchdog, established in the aftermath of the phone hacking scandal, will analyse how to introduce an arbitration body so that claimants can use ‘a quick and cheap means of solving legal disputes’.

As part of its review of press regulation, the Leveson Report recommended introducing an inquisitorial arbitration process to resolve disputes with the press that would hand an arbitrator the power to quickly reject frivolous or vexatious claims as well as reduce legal counsel cost with the arbitrator taking an active role in questioning witnesses and examining the evidence.

However, IPSO, which would keep its regulatory duties separate from legal claims against the press, is unsure whether to introduce an arbitration forum as an alternative to the courts, rather than a mandatory replacement.

The regulator believes that the arbitration could be questioned if the publisher is unable to choose on a case by case basis whether to enter arbitration but there are concerns that a voluntary scheme would allow powerful newspapers to continue to frighten off comparatively poor claimants from bringing a case to court.

The consultation will examine the pros and cons of a mandatory scheme, as well as whether there should be a cap on the award the arbitrator can make and if conciliation should be part of the process during the early stages of a press dispute. If IPSO decides to establish an arbitration scheme once the consultation concludes in September then a pilot will be introduced before seeking the agreement of the industry for a wider scheme.

The Leveson Report, which recommended a full transferal of civil disputes involving the press from the courts by implementing mandatory arbitration, stated a mandatory format would make it impossible to ‘deprive anyone, claimant or defendant, of their right to have their case heard by a court’.

The report concluded that inquisitorial arbitration would be a ‘rebalancing any inequality of arms’. Indeed, absence of an arbitration system has been a criticism directed at IPSO by the pressure group Hacked Off.

Ipso’s chairman, retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Alan Moses, said: ‘Arbitration is not just about reducing costs and delays associated with litigation, it is about widening access to justice for members of the public and is something I feel very strongly about. At the core of IPSO’s work is that we will support complainants who feel wronged by the press and this consultation asks for views on how an arbitration scheme could be part of that provision. I look forward to receiving responses from the public as well as the industry and commentators.’