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Litigation: New libel laws could lead to a wave of defamation cases

A leading media law firm has warned that the Government's proposals to lower the costs associated with bringing a libel case could lead to a wave of litigation that could hit small publishers, reports the Financial Times.

The Ministry of Justice is considering plans to change the current rules on libel cases that state that the loser should pay all costs for both parties.

If removed, the cost of bringing an unsuccessful libel case will plummet, which some experts believe may lead to a rash of speculative cases.

In an interview with the Financial Times, media law firm Wiggin said that more clients they have spoken to have indicated they would 'have a go' bringing a libel case that they may previously have left alone.

"We have found that a significant proportion of people, who would not have otherwise brought a claim, would be willing to 'have a go' because the risk of having to pay both sides' costs is removed," said leading defamation lawyer, Caroline Kean, in her interview with the FT.

"The impact of this, on small publishers in particular, but also the already overstretched court system, could be devastating," she added.

The UK's libel laws are currently under review, with the Defamation Act 2013 receiving its Royal Assent in April this year.

The Act requires claimants to show actual or probable serious harm to make a claim for defamation. The Act also removes a previous presumption that all defamation cases should be heard by a jury, reducing the cost of some cases.

The Act has also created new statutory defences for truth, honest opinion and for situations where publication is made in the 'public interest'.

The Act will only come into place after its commencement, probably at the end of 2013, and will only apply to events occurring after the commencement date.