Media lawyers lambast the use of CFAs in libel

In-house lawyers from five major newspaper groups and two broadcasters have been refused permission by the Court of Appeal to intervene in the libel case brought by political activist Adam Musa King against the Telegraph Group.

Musa King is the first defamation case to consider the use of conditional fee arrangements (CFAs), the ‘no win, no fee’ arrangements that allow claimant libel lawyers who win cases to bill the losing side a ‘success fee’, amounting to as much as 100 per cent of the winner’s costs.

The case has taken on a wider significance for media organisations, which complain that CFAs force them to settle libel actions early to avoid the possibility of paying such success fees, which in the past have reached more than £500,000.

Musa King, who is funded through a CFA with his law firm Peter Carter-Ruck and Partners, is suing The Daily Telegraph for linking him to Al-Qaeda.

The newspaper applied unsuccessfully to have the case struck out by the High Court last June, arguing that Musa King’s case was so weak that his CFA funding amounted to an abuse of process.

Next week The Daily Telegraph, represented by Farrer & Co and 5 Raymond Buildings’ James Price QC, takes its case to the Court of Appeal.

The in-house lawyers from Associated Newspapers, the BBC, Guardian Newspapers, The Independent, ITN and News International have instructed Reynolds Porter Chamberlain partner Keith Mathieson and One Brick Court’s Andrew Caldecott QC.
Mathieson acted for the same group of media organisations when they lobbied the Government last autumn to review CFAs in libel cases.

Mathieson said he was disappointed that the media companies could not intervene in the action, but that the Court of Appeal could still use the case to examine the issue of CFAs in libel.

“The availability of CFAs in libel cases is putting immense and unfair economic pressure on media companies to settle, and the Court of Appeal has an opportunity to redress the balance by ensuring that CFAs will only be permitted in deserving cases,” he said.

Carter-Ruck declined to comment.