Leveson by the back door

Privacy
Amid criticisms of hijacking the Defamation Bill, the House of Lords has voted in favour of adding a last-minute “Leveson clause”, with 272 voting for, and 141 against.


The amendment to the Defamation Bill, for a Leveson-style low-cost arbitration service, was put forward by Lord Puttnam at report stage: “Lord Justice Leveson has already proposed a ready-made and carefully considered solution,” Puttnam said. “The advantage of our simple amendments is that they closely follow those recommendations…They also have the merit of showing that the arbitration service proposed by Lord Justice Leveson can be put into effect in a remarkably simple and straightforward manner.”

Speaking against attaching the amendment to a defamation Bill, was Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who also warned that the scheme would result in complex legal disputes: “The scheme envisaged by these amendments is inquisitorial and not adversarial. It is not a voluntary scheme because of the threat of exemplary damages for failure to use a recognised arbitration service. The arbitrator does not satisfy the requirements of judicial process by an independent court or tribunal established by law. The arbitrator can dispense with hearings in his or her discretion. There is no right of appeal to an independent court or tribunal and the process is free for complainants but to be paid for by the press. In my view, such a scheme would be incompatible with Articles 6 and 10 of the convention.”

The third reading – a final chance to amend the Bill – was scheduled to take place on 25 February. The amendment will then be considered by the Commons.

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