The Leveson Inquiry came to its close in November with the publishing of Lord Leveson’s report after nearly a year of public hearings. One of the catalysts which triggered the inquiry was the phone hacking scandal where pockets of the media were found to have hacked into various phones of both celebrities and normal citizens in order to source stories. The scandal led to the downfall of News of the World and resulted in millions of pounds worth of compensation being handed out. Lord Leveson has made various recommendations in his published report about media regulation and some of these affect how victims of media malpractice can claim compensation in the future.
Leveson’s arbitration service
Amongst the most significant recommendations, including the proposal for an independent self-regulatory body validated by legislation, Lord Leveson has recommended setting up an arbitration service to provide a cost-effective alternative to court proceedings when dealing with claims against the press. Leveson’s arbitration service aims to protect access to justice for any individual that has a legitimate claim against the media regardless of their own means. All newspapers will be expected to sign up to the scheme which will be regulated by the new self-regulatory body and claimants will be expected to pursue arbitration, rather than go to court, with the possibility of financial penalties being put in place if a claimant refuses to arbitrate. The arbitration process will provide a legally binding conclusion and act as a genuine alternative to court. Leveson believes “the process should be fair, quick and inexpensive, inquisitorial and free for complainants to use”.
Will it work?
In the wake of the Jackson reforms which makes changes to civil litigation funding and, some argue, will hamper the ordinary person’s access to justice, Leveson’s proposal is perceived as an opportunity to level out the playing field. Thejusticegap.com, for example, cite arguments that claim the arbitration service will simultaneously provide access to justice to the ‘non-rich’ whilst also providing flexible remedies to each situation so that risk-taking journalism can be preserved.
But Director of the Centre for Ethics and Law at UCL Professor Richard Moorhead argues that the tribunals will inevitably serve the interests of those who “can afford to get lawyered up” i.e. the media and wealthy celebrities. He argues that a separate regulator, like an Ombudsman, will truly protect access to justice.