Libel is a complex, costly and highly emotivearea of law. It deals with people’s identity,their self-esteem and their capacity to expressthemselves freely. This report shows how boththe complexity and costs of libel can be reducedby giving greater respect to the human feelingsof libel litigants.Our recommendations are based on researchinto the needs of both claimants and defendantsin libel actions and consideration of a wide rangeof forms of alternative dispute resolution. Webelieve that the balance between freedom ofexpression and reputation should not be affectedby the relative resources of litigants but by thestrength of their claims, which should be assessedas early as possible, through either mediationor early neutral evaluation by a specialist HighCourt judge.Research shows that mediation has a successrate of 96 per cent in libel actions. Mediationdoes not mean compromise – quite the opposite.Mediation enables parties to establish the meritsof their case in an efcient and effective manner.It is a fast track to justice.Early neutral evaluation allows judges to assessthe merits of a case on the basis of a short andstraightforward hearing. Like mediation, it allowsboth parties to argue their case. It has a highsuccess rate in family law and in the Technologyand Construction Court.
For this reason we recommend:
All libel cases should be mediated; and•If either party refuses mediation their case•must go before a judge for early neutralevaluation.
Alongside this we recommend:
The removal of the presumption of a jury in•libel trials;The introduction of a simple procedure to•determine meaning;Judges should be given a mandate to apply•strict case management rules; andThe costs regime should redress any•inequality of arms between the parties.These changes in isolation will not resolve thecurrent failings of English libel law. They mustbe accompanied by meaningful reforms to thesubstantive law, as proposed by the Libel ReformCampaign, and to the costs regime, includinglimits on lawyers’ hourly rates.This triple-track approach to the reform ofprocedure, substantive law and costs has thepotential to create a more level playing eld infuture, in which both freedom of expression andreputation can be protected, where appropriate.This is a preliminary report, and we look forwardto hearing from anyone who has a view on themerits of this approach.