Punitive legal costs regime for IPSO members gets a step closer with appointment of Recognition Panel chair

Dr David Wolfe QC has been appointed as the first chairman of the Recognition Panel established by the Royal Charter on self-regulation of the press.

He will now work with the appointments committee to appoint the board for the Recognition Panel.

The job of this board will be to decide whether any future press regulators meet the criteria set out in the cross-party Royal Charter on press regulation.

Any new regulator which is okayed by the Recognition Panel will protect its members from the threat of exemplary damages as set out in the Crime and Courts Act 2013.

Most major national and regional newspaper publishers have signed up to new press self-regulation body the Independent Press Standards Organisation. It has indicated that it has no intention of applying for official recognition meaning that its members may not only risk exemplary damages, but they could also face paying both sides’ costs even if they win libel and privacy actions (also under the Crime and Courts Act).

Rival press regulation body Impress may apply for official recognition. It is believed to have around £100,000 of funding (including £40,00 from JK Rowling) but has yet to announce any members.

There needs to be a viable regulator in place, which has official recognition, for the punitive costs clause in the Crime and Courts Act to be enacted.

This week media lawyer David Price refused a request from Impress founder Jonathan Heawood to give feedback on his proposals to set up an arbitration scheme for libel and privacy disputes.

In his response, which Press Gazette has seen, Price said: “Whatever your personal motivation, the potential consequence of what you are seeking to do is to trigger the ‘statutory incentives’ in the Courts and Crime Act.  

“There is no way that I will contribute to such a process. In the absence of such a consequence, I might have been willing to assist, because I am in favour of alternative dispute resolution and minimising costs.”

Wolfe, who is a barrister at Matrix Chambers, said: “A large part of my legal career has been spent defending the principle of fair decision-making. I am delighted to have been appointed to help establish independent oversight of an effective system of press self-regulation. That will help to secure the public interest in a free and vibrant press which acts in accordance with the lessons learned through the Leveson Inquiry.

“My first step is to work with the appointments committee to appoint a high calibre, diverse Board to work with me to carry out the important functions set out in the Royal Charter.

“The board is being appointed by a process which is unique in its independence from government, Parliament and other influences. Once appointed, we will have a freedom from outside pressure not seen before in a public body.”

Wolfe today launched the competition to appoint members of the board of the Recognition Panel.

Wolfe has been appointed for five-years. The Recognition Panel will be funded by the government for the first three years after which it will take funding from any of the bodies which seek recognition from it.

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