Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Media
31 March 2010

Labour rebels attempt to block Straw libel reform

Labour MPs attempt to thwart plans to slash success fees for British libel lawyers.

By George Eaton

One of the few positive developments in recent months has been Jack Straw’s belated support for libel reform.

In a plan first trailed to the NS, the Justice Secretary promised to reduce lawyers’ success fees from a maximum of 100 per cent to 10 per cent. Significantly, he confirmed that the measure could be introduced before the election through secondary legislation.

Action in this area is long overdue. Research by Oxford University shows that the cost of fighting a libel action in England is 140 times (yes, you read that right) greater than the European average.

But last night Straw’s plan was thrown into doubt after Labour MPs blocked the measure at committee stage. The guilty men were Tom Watson, Peter Kilfoyle, Chris Mullin and Jim Sheridan. The Tory MP Julie Kirkbride also voted against the passage of the law.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Coincidentally, Watson recently received “substantial damages” after suing the Sun over claims that he was involved in the McBride email smears scandal. He was represented by the law firm Carter-Ruck, which is lobbying fiercely against libel reform.

Content from our partners
“I learn something new on every trip"
How data can help revive our high streets in the age of online shopping
Why digital inclusion is a vital piece of levelling up

The Labour rebellion means that the measure must now return to the Commons after the Easter recess. It can be passed without a vote, but if any MP objects it will return to the House the next day for a full parliamentary vote.

The “no win, no fee system” was created in 1995 with the honourable aim of providing the poorest with access to justice, yet it has left small publishers unable to defend themselves and has discouraged original stories and investigative journalism.

It will be a scandal if this opportunity for reform is missed.

Follow the New Statesman team on Facebook.