Libel fee cut will not go ahead

Plans to cut conditional fee agreements (“CFA”) success fees for libel cases by up to 90 per cent have been dropped owing to lack of Parliamentary time.

The controversial plans, which were opposed by many claimant libel lawyers, would have capped the success fee chargeable in CFAs from a maximum 100 per cent to ten per cent. The reforms had previously failed to pass the committee stage in the House of Commons after four labour MPs joined opposition parties to vote it down.

Claimant libel lawyers have criticised the reduction to a ten per cent success fee on the basis that solicitors would be unable to bear the risk of bringing many otherwise deserving cases. They say that in practice the lawyer never recovers the full costs involved.

They have also pointed out that the risk is staged, with the 100 per cent success fee only applying at trial and most cases settling at an early stage in proceedings. This has the benefit that lawyers need carefully to assess the risks involved at every stage.

The Law Society has called for substantial research and consultation before any further proposals are put before Parliament. Robert Heslett, President of the Law Society, said: “Attempting to rush legislation, delegated or otherwise, through Parliament fails to consider the impact it can have.”

All three of the main parties have pledged to reform the libel laws after the general election.