Government plans to cut success fees for lawyers in defamation cases have been delayed by the former House of Commons speaker Lord Martin of Springburn (pictured).
Martin has tabled a ‘motion of regret’ against the proposal to reduce from 100% to 10% the maximum uplift that can be charged by lawyers for winning defamation cases taken on under conditional fee agreements.
Martin’s motion, which will trigger a full debate in the House of Lords, said the statutory instrument to implement the change was laid before parliament without allowing ‘sufficient time’ for consultation with all the professional and legal bodies concerned.
Martin told the Gazette: ‘I’m not about the business of delaying anything – that’s not what this is about. It’s a way of complaining to the government that there is unhappiness about the parliamentary order. If my motion is carried, ministers will have to take note of the feelings of the House of Lords.’
Explaining his interest in the issue, he said: ‘The argument put forward by the media is that 100% success fees are too high and have caused the pendulum to swing too much in favour of claimants. My view is that to reduce success fees to 10% is pulling the pendulum too far the other way.’
He said that if the government’s proposal had suggested limiting success fees to 50%, he would not have tabled his motion of regret.
In 2008, Martin sought and received an apology from the Times newspaper for an article that alleged that he treated officers of the House of Commons less favourably if they came from a more privileged social background than himself.
Martin engaged lawyers to act on his behalf on a ‘no win, no fee’ agreement and said: ‘I was glad to be able to use the facility and I appreciate that people on an ordinary or modest income would benefit from the facility too.’
In a separate development as the Gazette went to press, justice secretary Jack Straw confirmed that a Libel Reform Bill is proposed in the next parliament after the general election. This will tackle libel tourism and provide greater protection to investigative journalism.