Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 (“s40”) implements some of the recommendations contained in the Leveson report. Namely, that there be an approved regulator, set up by publishers, which would offer a cheap arbitration service to settle legal disputes. If a publisher was not a member of an approved regulator and/or refused to engage in arbitration, they could face a bill for both sides legal costs, even if they won.
Most have taken the view that this new legislation marks the end of, or at least limits, press freedom and helps make the wealthy and powerful unaccountable.
A recent article by the Guardian takes the opposite view and highlights the potential benefits of this legislation, as below.
The article raises a good point, in that s40 would offer access to justice to those who would otherwise have been unable to bring a claim due to a lack of funds.
At present, s40 has not received “the pressing of the green button”. Despite lobbying from the press against this, many are in favour of s40. But, whether the green button gets pushed remains to be seen.
Newspapers that join this new regulator would enjoy much greater freedom to publish important investigative journalism. Hitherto, if a paper had an important story about a wealthy and powerful person, they might reluctantly decide not to publish because the threat of being dragged through expensive court actions was too great. A wealthy oligarch would only need to win once to bust the paper. But under the new system, our litigious oligarch would first be offered the new cheap arbitration system. If he took this option, the matter would be settled at a tiny fraction of the time and cost for the newspaper.