New libel arbitration scheme promises to keep costs down
Judith Townend: New libel arbitration scheme promises to keep costs down
22 Jun 11

An alternative route for libel action has been launched by Alastair Brett, former legal manager for the Times and Sunday Times, and the retired High Court judge Sir Charles Gray.

The Early Resolution scheme promises to keep legal costs down by settling certain issues outside the High Court.

An arbitrator — a QC or a retired judge — will be able to decide the meaning of an article or assess whether the content can be classed as “honest comment” or in the “public interest”.

Leading QCs, including Hugh Tomlinson, Gavin Millar and Adrienne Page, have agreed to act as arbitrators and libel specialist firms are among Early Resolution’s founding “associate members”.

Lay assessors may also be recruited to sit on an arbitration panel. The not-for-profit company’s founders claim that early resolution will keep costs down and be quicker than resolving matters through the High Court, with arbitrations costing around £2,500 (plus VAT) and taking no longer than 28 days.

Brett previously held a number of these defamation resolutions at the Times and says the results were encouraging: “On the basis I’ve done half a dozen to a dozen of these arbitrations over the last ten years or so, I never had a case that didn’t actually settle,” he said.

In the days following launch there have been some positive responses; the Independent’s media diary went so far as to say it “could transform libel in Britain”, while the director of the Media Standards Trust, Martin Moore, commented that it was “a smart way to get costs down”.

The real test, of course, will be whether the opposing parties agree to its binding and non-appealable terms. Brett is confident the cheap alternative to lengthy High Court proceedings will persuade them.