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April 10, 2008

Access to justice? ‘That’s a lie’

By Dominic Ponsford1

It’s come to something when millionaire QCs like Cherie Blair need to take advantage of the Government’s ‘access to justice’reforms in order to sue the News of the World.


Blair has joined the likes of Sharon Stone, Andy Cole, Naomi Campbell and Heather Mills among the rich and famous who have all sued newspapers under no-win, no-fee deals.


A system which was designed to help the less well-off is being used by the lawyers of the extremely well-off to double their money. This is because lawyers acting on CFAs have the right to charge a 100 per cent mark-up on their normal fees to the losing side in the case of victory.


This isn’t about access to justice. This is about lawyers taking

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advantage of another stick to beat the media with – and filling their pockets at the same time. This is about intimidation.


Lawyers know that if they sue under a CFA they are more likely to gain an early settlement because their victim will be aware that potential fees are spiralling upwards all the time.


Press Gazette has been at the receiving end of such tactics itself. Pay up the damages quickly – or face the risk of paying damages plus huge legal bills as well.


With the economy heading into slow-down – and budgets tightening up – few news organisations will be able to make principled stands when faced with strong-arm tactics from lawyers.


The Government needs to act quickly to find a new system which provides genuine access to justice for those who can’t afford to pay – while at the same time putting the brakes on the excesses of a system which currently benefits claimant lawyers more than anyone else.




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