- Prime Minister will include a repel of the law in Tuesday’s King’s Speech
- Government source says free press is ‘a key part of our democracy’
- Newspapers pay legal costs for both sides in libel and privacy cases
Rishi Sunak will scrap a controversial law that could make newspapers pay legal costs for both sides in libel and privacy cases – regardless of who wins.
Ministers have been concerned about the threat to free speech posed by the ‘draconian’ legislation, known as Section 40. Now a repeal of the law will be included in Tuesday’s King’s Speech, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
A Government source told the MoS that a free press is ‘a key part of our democracy’ – and that ‘forcing publishers to pay the costs of legal actions, win or lose, risks undermining press freedom’.
Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act – to give it its full name – means that news publishers would have to pay the costs of any court judgment if they are not a member of an ‘approved regulator’, whatever the outcome of the case.
But no national newspapers have signed up to the only state-approved regulator, Impress, which was established with funding from Max Mosley, in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry into the press.
Rishi Sunak will scrap a controversial law that could make newspapers pay legal costs for both sides in libel and privacy cases – regardless of who wins
The plans to repeal Section 40 will be set out in the forthcoming Media Bill and will be seen as a major victory for a free press
Instead most national and local newspapers are members of the independent regulator Ipso.
One insider working on the repeal said the ‘draconian law represents a real threat to media freedom. It’s worse than SLAPPs’: referring to vexatious legal claims used by the rich to try to muzzle journalists.
Meanwhile, politicians and free-speech campaigners have warned that the law, which has been on the statute book for years but never brought into effect, has had a chilling effect on free speech and risks ‘financial ruin’ for publishers.
Culture Minister Sir John Whittingdale, has described it as a ‘sword of Damocles hanging over all sections of the press. I know how important it was for the industry [to repeal Section 40], and I certainly never thought it was right for any government to force a state regulator upon them.’
Last Monday Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said the Government will legislate to tackle ‘unscrupulous lawsuits’ and spoke out against the ‘full force of legal threats and pressure from the rich and powerful who try to keep their secrets secret’.
The plans to repeal Section 40 will be set out in the forthcoming Media Bill and will be seen as a major victory for a free press.
But last night a Government source warned that Labour, which opposes the scrapping of Section 40, would reverse the plans.