January 2017 – Press Freedom & Section 40

January 2017 – Press Freedom & Section 40

Thank you for contacting me about the commencement of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.

As you may be aware, Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act has been enacted by Parliament, but no date has been set for the provisions to come in to force. If brought into force there would be a presumption that newspapers which are members of a recognised self-regulator would be exempt from paying their opponents’ legal costs in relevant media-related court cases, e.g. libel, even if they lost the case. There would also be a presumption that newspapers outside a recognised self-regulator would pay their own and their opponents’ legal costs, even if they won the case.

There are different views on whether to commence this measure at this time. It is essential that a balance is struck between press freedom and the freedom of the individual – those who are treated improperly must have redress, but likewise politicians must not inadvertently muffle the press or prevent it doing legitimate work.

The Government therefore conducted a consultation to seek views on the next steps regarding Section 40. This consultation sought to better understand the different views being offered and ensure the Government engaged with the widest possible audience. The consultation concluded on 10 January 2017 and the Government is considering the responses before making a decision on the next steps it will take.  I will wait for the Government’s response to the consultation, and consider it carefully along with input from others interested (including regulators, public interest and advocacy groups, and members of the press), before deciding finally my own position.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.