Rishi Sunak to scrap ‘draconian’ libel law

RISHI Sunak will scrap a “draconian” law that could make newspapers pay legal costs for both sides in libel and privacy cases – regardless of who wins.

Ministers have been concerned about the threat to free speech posed by the controversial legislation.
A repeal of the law will be included in Tuesday’s King’s Speech.

A Government source said free press is “a key part of our democracy” and that forcing publishers to pay the costs of legal actions, win or lose, “risks undermining press freedom”.

Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act means that news publishers would have to pay the costs of any court judgement if they are not a member of an “approved regulator”, whatever the outcome of the case.

But no national newspapers have signed up to the only state-approved regulator, Impress, which was established with funding from Max Mosley, in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry into the press.

Instead most national and local newspapers are members of the independent regulator Ipso.

Culture Minister Sir John Whittingdale, has described it as a “sword of Damocles hanging over all sections of the press”
Last week Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said the Government will legislate to tackle “unscrupulous lawsuits”.

The plans to repeal Section 40 will be set out in the forthcoming Media Bill and will be seen as a major victory for a free press.

Labour, which opposes the scrapping of Section 40, could reverse the plans if it wins the next general election.

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