The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), the voluntary regulator, is to launch a compulsory version of its dispute resolution scheme that costs claimants just £100 to use – if newspapers sign up to it.
The change means that someone with a claim against a newspaper who could have gone to court can ask for arbitration instead and the newspaper cannot refuse.
Under the current scheme, which only started last November, the newspaper can decide not to arbitrate on any given case.
National newspapers have been asked to confirm whether they will be joining the compulsory scheme by 4 May, with the new scheme going live by 31 July.
Culture secretary Matt Hancock tweeted his approval of the move yesterday, saying: “I welcome IPSO’s announcement of binding low cost arbitration – an important step forward for a press that’s both free and fair. Now the papers need to sign up.”
It has been suggested that it would also head off Conservative MPs keen both to see the second part of the Leveson inquiry take place, and to resurrect section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which provides that newspapers outside a recognised self-regulator would have to pay the claimant’s costs, even if the publisher won in court.
In March, the government said it would not proceed with the second part of the inquiry – which was to investigate the relationship between journalists and the police – and also pledged to repeal section 40, which has not been implemented, at the earliest opportunity.
With an effort in Parliament to reverse these positions, there were concerns among newspapers that some Conservative MPs would rebel and support it.
The IPSO scheme covers claims for defamation, malicious falsehood, breach of confidence, misuse of private information, data protection, and harassment. It must be made within 12 months of publication.
Once IPSO has accepted the claim, a senior barrister is appointed by CEDR as the arbitrator.
He or she makes a preliminary ruling on some core issues in the dispute, which provides a basis for settlement talks and may indicate the likely success of the claim. If one of the parties wants to continue the claim, it goes to a final ruling, after which the arbitrator can award damages and fees, if the claim is successful.
The current damages cap of £50,000 will rise to £60,000 under the new scheme, and successful claimants can also be awarded up to £10,000 in costs, or £1,000 if representing themselves.
Losing claimants are not required to pay the other side’s costs, unless an arbitrator judges the claim was wholly without merit or vexatious.
IPSO chief executive Matt Tee said: “Lord Justice Leveson stressed the importance of having a low-cost means of people that had been wronged by a newspaper getting compensation, without the expense of court and legal fees.
“The new IPSO scheme does exactly that and the papers are not able to choose which cases they take.”
IPSO was created in the wake of Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry to replace the Press Complaints Commission. It is not recognised by the body set up to approve applications under the Royal Charter on Self-Regulation of the Press – the Press Recognition Panel.
However, it represents most national newspapers as well as the Press Association and Conde Nast UK magazines, but not The Guardian and Observer, the Financial Times, or the Independent titles.