Index on Censorship has for the past four decades published the work of censored writers and artists. Now we face the possibility of censorship thanks to a UK government law that means — as a publisher that refuses to sign up to a regulator approved by a state-created body — we could end up paying both sides in a legal dispute even if we ultimately win the case. The law, Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, as it stands is a danger to a free press.
Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act is a direct threat to press freedom in the UK and must be scrapped.
This part of the act, created as a response to the Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking, has been on the statute for three years but was not enacted because — until earlier this year — there was no approved regulator of which publishers could be part. That changed when Impress, a regulator to which so far only small local media publishers have signed up, was approved in October by the Press Recognition Panel (PRP). The PRP was established through an arcane state mechanism called a Royal Charter following the Leveson Inquiry. Having an approved regulator means Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act could now be brought into force and that we and many other small publishers could face crippling costs in any dispute, threatening investigative journalism or those who challenge the powerful or the wealthy.
Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act is a direct threat to press freedom in the UK and must be scrapped. The government is currently consulting the public on section 40.
Index has warned consistently of the dangers from the Crime and Courts Act.
1. Under s.40, or the “cost provisions”, in relevant media-related court cases, newspapers which are members of a recognised self-regulator are exempt from paying their opponents’ legal costs, even if they lost a case. The presumption would also mean that newspapers outside a recognised self-regulator must pay their own and their opponents’ legal costs, even if they win a case. The s.40 incentive is based on the fact that recognised self-regulators have to have a low cost arbitration scheme that replaces the need for court action.
2. Please provide the evidence that supports your view (max 250 words)
As a small, independent magazine publisher that is a “relevant publisher” of news-related material as per the definition provided in section 41 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and that is not subject to any of the exemptions listed in Schedule 15, Index on Censorship faces the prospect of having to pay the costs for both sides if a claim is brought against us – even in a case we are ultimately successful in winning. This could potentially bankrupt the organisation, effectively silencing a magazine that has for the past 44 years dedicated its existence to the publishing of work by, and information about, censored writers and artists worldwide.
3. To what extent will full commencement incentivise publishers to join a recognised self-regulator? Please use evidence in your answer. (max 250 words)
Index on Censorship will not sign up to a regulator that has to be approved by a state-appointed body. Freedom of the press – including total freedom from any state involvement in regulation of the press – is the bedrock of a free and democratic society. Section 40 stands in direct opposition to this principle. Introducing punitive statutory penalties is not an incentive – it is a threat. Forcing publishers to join a recognised regulator or face the threat of punitive costs makes a mockery of the notion that the self-regulator is in any way voluntary.