(RPC) is abandoning claimant media work in a move which will see the firm’s media team fight exclusively for the rights of the press.
RPC acts for several major media organisations and has been finding it increasingly difficult to avoid conflicts of interest when taking cases on behalf of claimants suing newspapers and magazines for libel.
RPC’s past claimant work has included acting for former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith when he was accused of breaking parliamentary rules by paying his wife for acting as his diary secretary and advising former Prime Minister John Major when he sued New Statesman and satirical publication Scallywag over claims that he had an affair with a caterer.
An additional concern is that acting for claimants means RPC’s 11-strong media team would find themselves attacking the media’s freedom of expression instead of upholding it.
Head of media Liz Hartley told The Lawyer: “We find that if we’re to be acting in a claimant’s best interest, we’d have to attack the media’s right to report freely. We do not want to be eroding the laws which protect the media.”
Hartley added: “We’re taking a sensible view that we cannot fairly represent claimants.”
RPC has increasingly taken up the fight for organisations such as Associated Newspapers to defend the media on issues such as the right to information. Last week, The Lawyer exclusively reported that RPC was acting for Associated Newspapers, News International and Trinity Mirror in a challenge to a change to the Civil Procedure Rules on disclosure of court documents.
The issue of conditional fee agreements in defamation cases is another area currently being challenged by media and defendant law firms, including RPC.