Libel bar fights back against newspapers’ demands

A row has erupted over proposals from a group of in-house media lawyers to stop instructed barristers from acting against them.

One Brick Court and 5 Raymond Buildings and Russell Jones & Walker have written strongly-worded letters to The Lawyer in defence of the current system, which requires barristers to accept ‘cab rank’ instructions.

Last month The Lawyer reported that in-housers from several major newspapers are in favour of ringfencing their favourite libel barristers by refusing to instruct barristers who act against them (The Lawyer, 20 October).

In a co-written letter, One Brick Court head of chambers Richard Rampton QC and 5 Raymond Buildings heads of chambers Desmond Browne QC and Adrienne Page QC said the idea could lead to newspapers preventing the best barristers from acting against them.

“The purpose of the cab-rank rule is to ensure that everyone is entitled to their full choice of the bar. Newspaper groups could disable barristers from acting against them by instructing them in a single matter, and then demanding that they not act against them for a significant period,” the letter reads.

Russell Jones argues that forcing libel barristers to act exclusively for or against newspapers will dilute the quality of the libel bar.

The in-housers want to guarantee regular work to QCs in return for those QCs refusing to act against them.