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January 9, 2017

Oliver Letwin: Government faces ‘trench warfare’ with the Lords if it does not enact Section 40

By Dominic Ponsford

If the Government fails to enact Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act it is going face “trench warfare” in Parliament, according to Sir Oliver Letwin.

He is the former head of David Cameron’s policy unit and was responsible for devising the Royal Charter-backed system of press regulation which Section 40 underpins.

In October the Lords twice attached a version of Section 40 to the Investigatory Powers Bill, only for it to be thrown out by the House of Commons.

The current consultation (which closes tomorrow) on whether to enact Section 40 helped the Government throw out the second Lords amendment and get the Investigatory Powers Bill passed.

Section 40 says that news publishers who are not signed up to a Royal Charter-recognised press regulator would pay both sides’ costs in libel and privacy cases win or lose.

Letwin told the Financial Times: “This will just go on and on until something breaks. The Lords are going to keep sending amendments back to the Commons on a whole series of bills. It’s not Waterloo, this is trench warfare.”

According to the FT, he has suggested a compromise could be backed by Peers whereby IPSO is given official recognition (and protection for its members) in return for providing low-cost arbitration.

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Currently, official recognition is only available by making an application to the £1m-a-year state-funded Press Recognition Panel which makes detailed reference to the Royal Charter.

IPSO has said it will not apply for official recognition because its members are strongly opposed to state involvement in press regulation.

IPSO provides an arbitration scheme, but it is optional for publishers and claimants must pay costs of up to £3,000 to lodge a claim (recoverable if they win). The Royal Charter on press regulation says publishers must provide an arbitration scheme which is free to claimants.

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