Leveson’s Model Realised in IMPRESS Arbitration Scheme

IMPRESS Chief Operating Officer Ed Procter reviews how arbitration can assist news publishers to resolve legal disputes quickly, cheaply and transparently.

If you’re an athlete facing a lengthy ban for serious misconduct, a member of the public with a dispute against a financial services provider or a company claiming breach of contract for a property development, you’ll already know that using arbitration is an effective way to solve the dispute. Arbitration saves time, money, reputation and, most importantly, it is accessible to all.

Lord Justice Leveson envisioned an arbitration scheme for news publishers which would offer fast, low cost and accessible justice. IMPRESS has followed Leveson’s model by using arbitration as a central plank of its regulatory scheme. The scheme is designed to work for publishers and claimants, it is in place and ready for our members and their readers to use.

The IMPRESS scheme offers its publishers and members of the public cost certainty and protection against exorbitant legal costs when faced with a time consuming and expensive legal fight. It is designed to be an alternative to litigation and is offered in addition to the IMPRESS complaints service that will handle routine breaches of the standards code.

Low cost arbitration for news publishing will no doubt be unpopular with some - media lawyers, powerful and wealthy news organisations who prefer to settle their claims in court, safe in the knowledge that very few individuals harmed by the press can afford to take them on and wealthy individuals and corporations who can bully small news publishers into not publishing news stories that they do not like. What is clear, however, is that for publishers and for members of the public, arbitration offers an effective route to resolve legal disputes. It works well in other industries and through the IMPRESS scheme it can now work well for news publishing.

Lord Justice Leveson’s model for the news industry envisaged a system of “carrots” and “sticks” to persuade publishers to sign up with an approved regulator and use its arbitration scheme instead of going to court. Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 provides the legal framework for this.

The ‘carrot’ is that as a member of an approved regulator, publishers are fully protected against the risk of picking up the legal bill of a claimant, if a claimant insists on going to court. A court must not make a costs award against a publisher, even if it loses the claim.

The ‘stick’ is that if a publisher is not a member of an approved regulator and a claimant is forced into litigation, they will pick up their own legal costs and in most cases those of the claimant, even if the publisher wins the claim.

The IMPRESS arbitration scheme requires publishers to pick up the arbitration bill and limits this to a maximum of £3,500. In most cases it will be less than this and in all cases will be many times cheaper than going to court. For publishers who are concerned about the potential costs of arbitration, an insurance scheme which is exclusive to IMPRESS members will be available to provide cover for multiple arbitrations for a premium of around £250 a year.  

For claimants, the IMPRESS arbitration scheme is free to access (apart from a £75 filing fee) and there is no risk of having to pay the legal costs of the publisher if a claim is unsuccessful. It therefore improves access to justice for individuals who have suffered real harm at the hands of the press.

To avoid publishers being swamped with ineligible claims, IMPRESS will assess all requests for arbitration to ensure that only claims which fall within the narrow legal scope of the scheme are accepted.   

For our publishers the scheme offers cost certainty and protection against exorbitant legal costs. There is a cap on the legal costs that can be awarded against a publisher of £3,000, if a claim is successful. This cap is important because it discourages claimant lawyers from racking up high legal costs under “no-win, no-fee” arrangements.

Arbitration proceedings are held in private and it is only the final decision or “award” of the arbitrator that is made public. This ensures that the process is transparent and that lessons can be learned for the future.