Cases involving defamation and other media torts are to have their own specialist list within the Queen’s Bench Division. The Media and Communications List will be presided over by Mr Justice Warby, HM Judiciary announced.
Warby is currently hearing an action brought by Guardian contributor Jack Monroe against Mail columnist Katie Hopkins over allegedly defamatory tweets, a significant test of the ‘serious harm’ threshold created by the 2013 Defamation Act.
From today, Warby takes primary responsibility for cases involving one or more of the main media torts: defamation, misuse of private information and breach of duty under the Data Protection Act and related or similar claims arising from publication or threatened publication by the print or broadcast media, online, on social media, or in speech.
Warby will exercise judicial responsibility for the listing of cases and of applications within them and will be responsible for considering emerging procedural issues in this context, the judiciary statement said.
Parties who consider that their case meets the parameters of the list should title their claim ‘Media and Communications List’ upon issue or upon filing an acknowledgement of service.
The judiciary statement said the new arrangement will not change existing practice, ‘but Mr Justice Warby is proposing to consult in due course with those who litigate in this area … with a view to establishing generally whether there are any improved practical arrangements that might be made for cases of the kind specified.’
The announcement was warmly received by media law solicitors. Magnus Boyd, partner at reputation management specialist Schillings, said the list would provide sense and consistency. ‘That’s valuable to both claimant and defendant. A constancy off tone as well as approach enables one to advise clients better.’
Boyd said the idea of one judge taking charge of defamation cases was not new, recalling that when offer of amends was introduced under the 1996 Defamation Act, then High Court judge David Eady QC made a point of taking on such cases.
A specialist list might also ensure that only cases where the law needs to be clarified or moved on come to court, Boyd said. ‘That’s better for everybody.’