On 26 March I went to a debate organised by Michael Taylor of Downtown in Business, Discuss and Think More that was designed to make us… well…think more about “The Press has Broken our Trust and No Longer Deserves to Go Unchecked”. For the motion were Chris Elliott, Readers editor, The Guardian and Tom Rowland, Hacked Off campaigner and former Telegraph journalist. Defending the freedom of the press were Bob Satchwell of the Society of Editors and Nick McAleenan a Manchester solicitor.
Not being one for great suspense, I’ll tell you how it went now. The “No” vote was carried by 2 votes so pretty close then.
What troubled me about the arguments against was that Nick turned up with a 500 page text book on media law that shows that we have a lot of checking of the press right now. Bob said he would like to bin a lot of it but no one seriously argued that we should have a complete free for all. So how can anyone argue that the press should be completely unchecked when it already is checked?
While we were discussing how the press can be restrained now by criminal prosecution and civil claims through the courts, inevitably the Millie Dowler case came up in the context of existing press restraint. Her family have often said that if it were not for a conditional fee agreement (“no win no fee arrangement”) with their lawyers they could not have fought their case. Tom threw in the remark that those fee agreements were gone now.
They are not. This firm still offers conditional fee agreements to both corporate and individual clients (no fee or low fee if you do not win, depending on the chance of success, convenience to both us and our clients and the mathematics). The difference now is that the client pays the success fee. Obviously, the value of the claim has a bearing on whether we or our client want to do it. It is pretty pointless if all the damages go in success fees. That is not what we are here for. At Freeth Cartwright we want our clients to come out of any dispute in a much better position than they were when they came to us.
When the rules changed and success fees and insurance premiums for after the event cover could not longer be claimed from a losing opponent, insurers became more creative too. We can get funding for cases with relatively low values. This means that in exchange of footing our client’s bill as the case goes on and paying the other side’s costs in the event we lose (not likely if we have advised that a client goes ahead) the insurer takes a percentage of the damages. Again, we have to do the maths to see if it is worthwhile for our client.
The debate was well attended and loads of people were clamouring for their say so rather uncharacteristically I kept my trap shut then about the fee arrangements we can offer. So I am putting the score straight now.
And thanks Michael, it was a great debate. I am looking forward to the next one.
Finally, which way did I vote, did I hear you ask? Secret ballot but I may tell you if you call me.