PM warned: 'you will stand accused of giving yet more power to large media corporations and corporate libel bullies'
A group of libel reform campaigners and "victims of the tabloid press" have written to the prime minister urging him to think again about changes to the "no-win no-fee" system.
The legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill is due to have its final reading tomorrow in the House of Lords and includes restrictions on conditional fee agreements and "after-the-event" insurance.
If passed, the bill would prevent claimants recovering lawyers' success fees and insurance premiums from losing defendants. In the open letter, the campaigners say the scope of the bill should not include privacy and libel cases.
The letter, published by the Guardian, is signed by Kate and Gerry McCann, Christopher Jefferies, Peter Wilmshurst, Robert Murat, Hardeep Singh, Nigel Short and Zoe Margolis.
It reads: "Parliament is on the cusp of passing a law that will grossly restrict access to justice for ordinary people in privacy and libel cases, without even any saving to the public purse. We strongly object to the passing of this unjust measure and urge you to amend it before it is too late.
"In practice this means that in future ordinary defendants, like Peter Wilmshurst, Hardeep Singh and Heather Brooke will be unable to get support for legal action taken against them, often by large institutions with deep pockets trying to silence them. That would be bad news for science and medicine, for free religious debate and for transparency in the public interest.
"Victims of the tabloid press like Christopher Jefferies, Bob and Sally Dowler, Kate and Gerry McCann and Robert Murat will not be able to take legal action against the tabloids for hacking into their phones, for false accusations and for gross misrepresentation.
"Newspaper corporations with big legal departments and their own insurance would scare people off by the prospect of facing a million pounds worth of costs if they lose. This is obviously both wrong and unfair to the ordinary citizen with a good case.
The letter concludes: "The bill simply fails to consider people like us. Unless a change is made on Tuesday, the government will have succeeded only in uniting both claimants and defendants from modest backgrounds – together with their supporters – against the government and much of the good will generated by the setting up of the Leveson inquiry and promising a libel reform bill will be lost.
"We urge you to take action now to amend the legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill to specifically remove libel and privacy cases, or you will stand accused of being unfair to ordinary people and giving yet more power to large media corporations and corporate libel bullies."
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