The European Court of Human Rights today unanimously ruled that the payment of success fees of up to 100 per cent in privacy and defamation cases, under CFA agreements, constitutes a violation of the right to free expression.
In a judgment in Mirror Group News versus United Kingdom, the court said the “flaws” of success fees and the CFA system “are such that the Court can conclude that the impugned scheme exceeded even the broad margin of appreciation to be accorded to the State in respect of general measures pursuing social and economic interests.”
The Mirror newspaper brought the case to Strasbourg after it was forced to pay £500,000 in costs and success fees to model Naomi Campbell, after it was found to have breached her privacy by photographing her leaving a drug addiction treatment centre. The court upheld that there had been no breach of the Mirror’s free expression in the privacy ruling won by Campbell.
Media Legal Defence Initiative, the Open Society Justice Initiative, Index on Censorship, English PEN, Global Witness and Human Rights Watch jointly intervened in the case to express serious concern about the costs of defending libel and privacy claims in the UK. NGOs and small publishers — including bloggers — are extremely vulnerable to the threat of a costly libel or privacy actions in the UK. They simply do not have the means to defend themselves, and are easily forced to apologise and retract allegations even when they know them to be true.
Jo Glanville, editor of Index on Censorship said: “This is a resounding triumph, spelling the end of success fees in defamation and privacy cases, one of the most serious chilling effects on freedom of expression in the UK.”