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Monday, November 10, 2008 

The Daily Mail in the flesh.

Andrew Neil once wrote that if you want to know what Rupert Murdoch thinks, you should read the Sun's editorials. Not the Times', the Sun's; Rupert doesn't really do subtlety. It's much the same with Paul Dacre. The Daily Mail after all couldn't really be a person writ large, could it? There's too many contradictions, too much foaming hatred, so much casual cynicism combined with values that went out with rationing. No one could be like that, could they?

Dacre's latest extended utterances prove drastically otherwise. Having previously, and somewhat hilariously, delivered the Cudlipp lecture, the late great editor that Dacre doesn't deserve to even lick the boots of, railing against the "subsidariat" and the BBC, he was given the lectern at the Society of Editors bash. Clocking in at just over 7,500 words, it covers more or less everything that Dacre and by extension the Daily Mail loathes. First though he goes through what originally inspired him:

Hugh Cudlipp’s “Publish and Be Damned”, and Arthur Christiansen’s “Headlines All My Life” were my much-thumbed bibles. All those glorious memoirs by James Cameron, that brilliant reporter, were my text books.

And yet you still turned into the man you are today.

Before we've even got anywhere, he's straight in with the out and out bullshit:

I am, however, delighted, over the years, to have made my own small contribution to the chattering classes’ dyspepsia with the Rothermere press – but then no day is too busy or too short not to find time to tweak the noses of the liberalocracy which effectively run Britain.



Ah yes, the "liberalocracy" which effectively runs Britain. Fact of the matter is, like with Murdoch, no government could ever be right-wing enough to satisfy Dacre or the Mail, just as there'll probably never be a government left-wing enough to satisfy me.

How Dacre became the man he is today:

At university, I edited the student newspaper. I’m afraid I took a product that looked like the then Times on Prozac and turned it into a raucous version of Cudlipp’s Mirror complete, I shudder to admit, with Page 3 girl students whom I dubbed “Leeds Lovelies”. 

We mounted an undercover investigation, complete with photographers, into seemingly respectable pubs that were putting on strip shows. Family entertainment it wasn’t.

His hypocrisy then was already fully in action. Leeds Lovelies on one page, investigation into strippers doing the same thing on the next. Brilliant!

Open sentimental twaddle about the old Sunday Express follows:

So what was the editorial formula identified originally by the brilliant Scottish editor John Gordon and followed with ruthless will by John Junor? Firstly, the paper never, ever, forgot who its readers were and what interested them and their families. Secondly, it told everything through the prism of people. 

Page 3 of the Sunday Express said it all. The lead article under the title “Meeting People” was an interview - not with the kind of half-baked trollop who passes as a celebrity these days, but with, say, the mother of a newly chosen British Nobel Prize winner.

 Next to it was a large cartoon by Giles whose genius for clean, gloriously warm family humour is matched today only by the Mail’s magnificent Mac. Why this genre of cartooning - which combines superb draftsmanship with a timeless universal humour that often contains great truths - is dying out is a subject for another speech. Anyway, underneath was the “You the Lawyer” column addressing the problems of every day life such as fencing disputes and dog bites. What paper today would have such a low-key, non-newsy page 3. Yet all human life was on that page.

All human life, as long as it was suitably middle class, obviously.

Skipping a whole load of nonsense about the good ol' days, how columnists these days don't know their born, how it's all the fault of the state and some justified poking at Richard Desmond, he gets to the start of his main points.

Donning my hat as Chairman of the PCC’s Editors’ Code Committee, I would like to talk to you a little about where we are on regulation and press freedom issues. 

About 18 months ago, I, Les Hinton of News International and Murdoch MacLennan of the Telegraph, had dinner with the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

How very cosy. Ignoring the first two concerns he raised, which were reasonably noble, it's his last two which are the interesting ones:

Thirdly, there were the very serious financial implications for newspapers of the Conditional Fee Arrangement, the no win, no fee legislation. Introduced as a well-intentioned measure to help the poor have access to the courts, it was being ruthlessly exploited by unscrupulous lawyers who were ramping up their costs in media cases. Publishers were being faced with huge bills, sometimes running into millions, to defend even the most simple, clear-cut cases.

 Costs in CFA cases, as many of you here know, can be almost infinite with lawyers entitled to “success fees” of up to 100% on top of their actual bills. This gives them a positive financial incentive to take relatively straight-forward cases, worth just a few thousand pounds, and run them as long as possible. Adding insult to injury, CFA claimants can take out very expensive ATE (after the event) insurance policies to protect themselves against costs. If they win, the paper has to pay the claimant’s premium, but if they lose - and this is the cynicism of it all – the insurer rarely enforces the charges because the claimant invariably cannot afford to pay. 



Let me give you an example: Martyn Jones, an utterly inconsequential MP, sued the Mail on Sunday over their claim that he had sworn at a Commons official. The Mail on Sunday believed it had rock-solid witnesses and decided to fight the case. In the event, they lost and were ordered to pay £5,000 in damages. The MP’s lawyers claimed costs of £388,000 – solicitor’s costs of £68,000, plus 100% success fees, barrister’s costs of £63,000, plus 100% success fees, VAT and libel insurance of £68,000. Associated’s costs were £136,000 making a total of £520,000 costs in a case that awarded damages of just £5,000 in a dispute over a simple matter of fact.

 Can it really be right for a QC in a libel case to be paid £7,000 for a day in court whilst the same QC, prosecuting or defending a serious case at the Old Bailey, may receive less than £600 a day – less than a tenth?

Perhaps predictably, Dacre leaves some crucial facts out of this recounting of the libel case involving Jones. The trial was held in front of a jury, although Justice Eady was the judge in charge, and it reached a majority verdict in favour of Jones. The Mail on Sunday claimed that he had told a House of Commons security guard to "fuck off"; Jones claimed that he had in fact said to the security guard that "I don't give a shit what you are, you should know who MPs are." The jury sided with Jones, and presumably also with the claim from Jones's lawyers that there were "at least a dozen untrue assertions" made which had been "cranked up, spiced up and sexed up" so that it became a "grotesque distortion" of what really happened. Perhaps if the MoS had settled it might not have had to pay such costs, hmm? In any event, what Dacre is describing is extraordinarily rare. As has been well documented, only the rich and famous can usually afford to bring libel cases, with there being very few law firms that will contest cases on a no-win no-fee basis. Jones was lucky; the MoS was not. Boo hoo, isn't the world awful?

The result is that today, newspapers – even wealthy ones like the Mail – think long and hard before contesting actions, even if they know they are in the right, for fear of the ruinous financial implications. For the provincial and local press, such actions are now out of the question. Instead, they stump up some cash, money they can’t afford, to settle as quickly as possible, to avoid court actions – which, if they were to lose, could, in some case, close them. Some justice!



Dacre wilfully exaggerates. Even costs of £520,000 to the Mail group are relative peanuts, and that was about as most extreme a case as you can imagine. The reality is that most who think they have been treated unfairly go to the Press Complaints Commission - where their treatment is often not much better.

The fourth issue we raised with Gordon Brown was a truly frightening amendment to the Data Protection Act, winding its way through Parliament, under which journalists faced being jailed for two years for illicitly obtaining personal information such as ex-directory telephone numbers or an individual’s gas bills or medical records. This legislation would have made Britain the only country in the free world to jail journalists and could have had a considerable chilling effect on good journalism.

 The Prime Minister – I don’t think it is breaking confidences to reveal – was hugely sympathetic to the industry’s case and promised to do what he could to help.

 Over the coming months and battles ahead, Mr Brown was totally true to his word. Whatever our individual newspapers’ views are of the Prime Minister – and the Mail is pretty tough on him - we should, as an industry, acknowledge that, to date, he has been a great friend of press freedom. 



Again, Dacre exaggerates completely. The amendment to the DPA was to stop the sale to journalists via private detectives of information obtained from companies' and sometimes government databases. This information was and is hardly ever, if ever, used to uncover genuine scandals, and even if it was, the journalists in those cases would be protected as usual under a public interest defence. What the DPA amendment would have helped put a lid on was the casual obtaining of information on anyone who crosses the media, almost always either celebrities or those accused of crimes outside the realm of the political sphere. At the trial of Stephen Whittamore, the prosecution alleged that some of the material they delivered to journalists was on two actresses then in EastEnders, the family of Ricky Tomlinson, and a former Big Brother contestant. Quite a chilling effect the amendment would have had on good journalism, I'm sure you'll agree.

In any event, the government quickly backed down, especially in the face of private lobbying by Dacre, Hinton and MacLennan, as Dacre goes on to boast:

Thirdly, there is to be action on the “scandalous” greed of CFA lawyers. That adjective is not mine, by the way, but Justice Minister’s Jack Straw’s in a recent speech on the subject. For following Number 10’s intervention all those months ago, there have been many constructive meetings between the industry and the Ministry of Justice on what to do about CFA.

A few weeks ago, I, Rebekah Wade and Murdoch MacLennan saw Jack Straw who assured us that, in the next few months, he is set to unveil proposals to reform CFA, including capping lawyers’ fees.

...

It was agreed that the Data Protection Act should be amended so that journalists would have the right to seek out protected information if they had a “reasonable belief” that their actions were in the public interest.

 And, more pertinently, the Act was amended so that the jailing clause cannot now be implemented unless the Secretary of State seeks approval from Parliament to activate it.



That they already had that "reasonable belief" obviously didn't matter. With the jailing clause unimplemented, the industry can carry on in exactly the way it was doing before.

So that is where we are. The industry has been warned. We must make sure our house in order. Under the auspices of PressBoF, we have produced a guidance note on DPA that has been sent to every paper in Britain. Now it is up to all of us to ensure that our journalists are complying with the Act. At Associated, we are holding seminars on the subject and have written compliance with the Act into our employment contracts. 

At the Editors Code Committee, we are considering whether the current provisions of the Code on data protection and our Guidance Notes, as well as the wording in the Editor’s Codebook, can be strengthened.

Why is it that I don't believe a single word of this? Probably because it was the Mail itself, without even including the MoS, that made the most use of Whittamore, with over 952 transactions. Dacre must have known and sanctioned every single one of them, and then he is one of those responsible for updating the current PCC code! The same newspaper which rages against misuse of government data and the loss of it broke the law in numerous instances and has got away with it. No wonder Dacre is so triumphant.

The parts on Justice Eady now come into view:

But there is one remaining threat to press freedom that I suspect may prove far more dangerous to our industry than all the issues I have just discussed.

 Put to one side the United Nations’ recent attack on Britain’s disgracefully repressive libel laws that have made London the libel capital of the world – something that should be a bitter source of shame for our judicial system. Concentrate instead on how inexorably, and insidiously, the British Press is having a privacy law imposed on it, which – apart from allowing the corrupt and the crooked to sleep easily in their beds – is, I would argue, undermining the ability of mass-circulation newspapers to sell newspapers in an ever more difficult market.



Here then is Dacre's thesis. He doesn't really care, when it comes down to it, about who he and his friends in the media expose in three-in-a-bed sex romps; what he cares about is that the exposing of the rich and the famous is in his view what makes people buy newspapers. Without it, the industry will be further damaged, and the state will have to step in. To suggest this is nonsense would be to give it too much respect: it is crap of the highest order. The Sunday tabloid press, which delivers the scandals and the sex in spades, is already falling of a cliff circulation wise. By contrast, the broadsheets, both daily and weekly are holding up fairly well. The tabloids have to face up to the fact that their readers are increasingly being lost to the internet, where no holes whatsoever are barred. The broadsheets on the other hand are doing OK because they rely on their quality: something which the tabloids simply do not provide, and that includes Dacre's paper, which most agree is the best tabloid regardless of the politics. Would a privacy law further heighten the drops? Probably, but it probably wouldn't make much difference.

In any event, we are not having a privacy law developed in front of our eyes - yet. That might depend on the verdict in the upcoming trial involving Sienna Miller and the Big Pictures photo agency. Just to emphasise how the tabloids don't learn, the Sun and News of the World today settled with her over the publication of nude photographs, awarding £35,000 plus costs, or a pittance as it is to News Corp. Miller has been serially offended against: the Star paid her £15,000 in September over similar photographs and the Sun and News of the World paid her £37,500 last December over, you guessed it, naked photographs. Some will hardly be predisposed to Miller because of her alleged behaviour, but surely the right not to be effectively stalked by paparazzi to the extent where you fear for your life, which is what Miller has been, is one which the law should recognise.

This law is not coming from Parliament – no, that would smack of democracy – but from the arrogant and amoral judgements – words I use very deliberately – of one man. 

I am referring, of course, to Justice David Eady who has, again and again, under the privacy clause of the Human Rights Act, found against newspapers and their age-old freedom to expose the moral shortcomings of those in high places. 



Two cases in particular underline this threat. 

Two years ago, Justice Eady ruled that a cuckolded husband couldn’t sell his story to the press about another married man – a wealthy sporting celebrity – who had seduced his wife. 

The judge was worried about the effect of the revelations on the celebrity’s wife. Now I agree that any distress caused to innocent parties is regrettable but exactly the same worries could be expressed about the relatives of any individual who transgressed which, if followed to its logical conclusion, would mean that nobody could be condemned for wrongdoing. 

But the judge – in an unashamed reversal of centuries of moral and social thinking – placed the rights of the adulterer above society’s age-old belief that adultery should be condemned.



Because Dacre cannot dispute Eady's rulings in a legal sense, he instead turns to morals to try to traduce him. The problem with this is obvious - the country has moved on. Unless hypocrisy is involved, or those involved are mega famous, no one really cares any more. We still disapprove of adultery, but we don't think those involved should be shamed just because they're famous. Dacre however thinks this is exactly the way it should be, that shame is what newspapers are meant to provide, but it isn't. They're supposed to inform, educate, and entertain. Shaming celebrities does none of those things.

The other problem is that the Mail is hypocrisy on stilts itself. The paper is wholly immoral - it thinks nothing of accusing innocent people of terrible crimes with no evidence, such as Robert Murat, who unsurprisingly doesn't warrant a mention in this speech, not to mention Colin Stagg. While it defended the McCanns to the hilt, because they were "its people", the second that Fiona MacKeown came to public attention in a similar plight she was smeared, her home broken into and pictures taken of her dead daughter's bedroom, and attacked by the same columnists who cried fake tears of sympathy for Kate McCann. It ran the most vicious and mendacious campaign possible against the MMR vaccine, now responsible for increased cases of measles up and down the country. It breaks the law with impunity, as we have seen. And then it imagines that it has the right to deliver lectures on what is and what is not moral, as Dacre goes on to do:

Recently, of course, the very same Justice Eady effectively ruled that it’s perfectly acceptable for the multi-millionaire head of a multi-billion sport that is followed by countless young people to pay five women £2,500 to take part in acts of unimaginable sexual depravity with him. 

The judge found for Max Mosley because he had not engaged in a “sick Nazi orgy” as the News of the World contested, though for the life of me that seems an almost surreally pedantic logic as some of the participants were dressed in military-style uniform. Mosley was issuing commands in German while one prostitute pretended to pick lice from his hair, a second fellated him and a third caned his backside until blood was drawn. 



Now most people would consider such activities to be perverted, depraved, the very abrogation of civilised behaviour of which the law is supposed to be the safeguard. Not Justice Eady. To him such behaviour was merely “unconventional”. 

Nor in his mind was there anything wrong in a man of such wealth using his money to exploit women in this way. Would he feel the same way, I wonder, if one of those women had been his wife or daughter? 

But what is most worrying about Justice Eady’s decisions is that he is ruling that - when it comes to morality - the law in Britain is now effectively neutral, which is why I accuse him, in his judgments, of being “amoral".

Dacre then is the only one who can decide what is and what is not moral. The whole point of the Mosley case was that the News of the World claimed it was a Nazi orgy; it was not, as Eady painstakingly pointed out. If it had been a Nazi orgy, the News of the World would have had a public interest defence; it wasn't, so it didn't. Fact is, Dacre thinks that what goes on in other people's bedrooms is his business; it isn't, and it is no business of the government's either. If Dacre really thinks that some mild BSDM is "unimaginable sexual depravity" he has a very very poor imagination. As for his comments about the way Mosley "exploited" the women who were more than willing to take part and who subsequently testified for his defence, with him suggesting that Eady might have been more concerned if they had included a daughter or his wife, that says far more about Dacre's own insecurity than it does about anything else.

In the sporting celebrity case, he rejected the idea that adultery was a proper cause for public condemnation. 

Instead, he declared that because family breakdown was now commonplace, there was a strong argument for “not holding forth about adultery” or, in other words, attaching no greater inherent worth to marriage than to any other lifestyle choice. 

Thus no moral delineation was to be made between marriage and those who would destroy it, between victim and victimiser, between right and wrong.



We're talking about three people's private affairs here, not the breakdown of society as we know it. One person's infidelity is not about to bring this country down; Dacre's sophistry has to be seen to be believed.

In the Mosley case, the judge is ruling that there is no public interest in revealing a public figure’s involvement in acts of depravity.

 What the judge loftily calls the “new rights-based jurisprudence” of the Human Rights Act seems to be ruling out any such thing as public standards of morality and decency, and the right of newspapers to report on digressions from those standards.

Except Mosley was not a public figure. He was not a hypocrite. He was just someone who the News of the Screws could make money out of. They couldn't care about the morals involved, as you'd expect; that was the excuse, just as it is here with Dacre. Or perhaps it isn't; maybe he really cares about morals whilst being completely immoral himself.

But most worrying is that when it comes to suppressing media freedom, the good Justice Eady is seemingly ubiquitous.... 

It was he who was going to preside in Tesco’s libel case against the Guardian, which was, in the event, recently settled out of court. 

It was the same Justice Eady who, in Lord Browne versus the Mail on Sunday, ruled that BP’s shareholders had the right to know that Browne had lied to the court – but did not have the right to know details of his conversations with his boyfriend, despite the paper’s case that they had serious public-interest implications. 

Again, it was Eady who found in favour of a Canadian folk singer called Loreena McKennitt, who had objected to the publication of a book about her by a former adviser, Niema Ash. Ms McKennitt did not claim that the book was in any way untrue, merely that it infringed her right to privacy. Never mind Ms Ash’s right to freedom of expression.

Except Eady was more than fair to the Guardian, despite his reputation. Browne's case is difficult, but in the main he came down on the side of the media. In the case of McKennitt, Eady's original ruling was then backed by both the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords. Hardly all the blame can be placed on his shoulders in that instance.

And it is Eady who, almost unnoticed here, has the distinction of having provoked the US Congress – in what’s dubbed the Libel Tourism Bill – to consider making English libel judgments unenforceable in America. This follows the judge’s decision to allow a Saudi banker to sue a New York author in the London courts even though she hadn’t published her book in Britain. Not for the first time, it seems that our colonial cousins can teach us a thing or two. 

But surely the greatest scandal is that while London boasts scores of eminent judges, one man is given a virtual monopoly of all cases against the media enabling him to bring in a privacy law by the back door.

Dacre makes about his only salient point here. This was a disgraceful decision by Eady, but is all about our libel laws, not the unwritten laws on privacy. The best course of action would be a re-writing of both: removing only the rich and famous from being able to sue for libel, whilst ensuring London cannot be used to silence critics worldwide, whilst protecting individual privacy against press intrusion. Neither though is about to happen, as, although newspapers complain about both, for the most part they are thoroughly happy with the situation. Their belief in freedom only extends as far as their wallets.

English Common Law is the collective wisdom of many different judges over the ages. The freedom of the press, I would argue, is far too important to be left to the somewhat desiccated values of a single judge who clearly has an animus against the popular press and the right of people to freedom of expression.

This is another fair enough point, but it's not as if Eady is purely making it up as he's going along: he's drawing extensively on past rulings and interpreting Articles 8 and 10 of the HRA; if he wasn't, he would be subject to far more criticism than just from those concerned with libel tourism and tabloid editors.

I personally would rather have never heard of Max Mosley and the squalid purgatory he inhabits. It is the others I care about: the crooks, the liars, the cheats, the rich and the corrupt sheltering behind a law of privacy being created by an unaccountable judge. 

If Gordon Brown wanted to force a privacy law, he would have to set out a bill, arguing his case in both Houses of Parliament, withstand public scrutiny and win a series of votes. Now, thanks to the wretched Human Rights Act, one Judge with a subjective and highly relativist moral sense can do the same with a stroke of his pen. 



All of those adjectives, apart from corrupt, could be applied to Dacre just as much as they could those he attacks. He describes what Gordon Brown would have to go through, but he doesn't mention another trial he'd have to pass: the opprobrium of the media, and that is not covered by public scrutiny. Put simply, the unaccountable media with all its power would not accept it, and they would ensure it would never pass, even though their actions have led to its effective creation. Here exposed then is why the likes of the Mail and Sun so hate the HRA; not because it's a criminals' or terrorists' charter, but because it directly affects their business models. They have to remember that the HRA was passed by parliament, that they had the opportunity to oppose it then and failed, and that it was the HRA that has helped to establish the Reynolds defence.

All this has huge implications for newspapers and, I would argue, for society. Since time immemorial public shaming has been a vital element in defending the parameters of what are considered acceptable standards of social behaviour, helping ensure that citizens – rich and poor – adhere to them for the good of the greater community. For hundreds of years, the press has played a role in that process. It has the freedom to identify those who have offended public standards of decency – the very standards its readers believe in – and hold the transgressors up to public condemnation. If their readers don’t agree with the defence of such values, they would not buy those papers in such huge numbers.



This may as well be Dacre's justification for the witch-hunt against Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand. It doesn't matter that the Mail has its own individual view of what public standards of decency are, as long as people keep buying the papers that justifies support. This is abject nonsense - people buy the newspaper they do for numerous reasons, not just for its political or moral outlook. This is simply the fig-leaf which those who think they have a right to decide what's right and what's wrong cover themselves with.

Put another way, if mass-circulation newspapers, which, of course, also devote considerable space to reporting and analysis of public affairs, don’t have the freedom to write about scandal, I doubt whether they will retain their mass circulations with the obvious worrying implications for the democratic process.



This is nothing more than blackmail covered with eye-watering cynicism. The same person who goes on to lionise the press and how wonderful it is is here suggesting that the gutter press needs scandal to survive. Nice little free press you've got here, be a shame if something was to happen to it. The proles need scandal, whilst we provide them with the finest news coverage in the world at the same time. What isn't there to like?!

Now some revile a moralising media. Others, such as myself, believe it is the duty of the media to take an ethical stand.

Did Paul Dacre just claim to have ethics? No, seriously, Dacre's taking an ethical stand? If he ever genuinely did, the ethics would snap beneath him in an instant. Not satisfied with descending into parody, Dacre then further suggests just how completely mad he is:

Why does not half an hour go by that the high priests of the subsidariat, the BBC, can’t resist a snide reference to the popular press, again blissfully oblivious that all too often they are following agendas set by those very popular newspapers whose readers pay their salaries.

Yes Paul, the BBC is always sneering at the "popular press". Please, keep taking the medicine.

He warms to this further theme by attacking Flat Earth News and Nick Davies without so much as mentioning the name of either:

Again, blissfully oblivious to the need for self-criticism of their own papers – the sine qua non of such pages is, by and large, that the liberal media can do little wrong while the large-circulation press is invariably scurrilous, malign and beyond all salvation. 

There was, of course, that recent book that savaged the behaviour of virtually every national newspaper. The book, which began with a presumption of guilt, was itself a pretty sloppy piece of journalism, full of half-truths, anonymous sources, gossip and urban myths presented as facts, and the very selective reporting that it accused papers of employing. And heaven forbid that its author should have observed the basic journalistic nicety of checking those facts with the parties concerned.

Could it possibly be because the liberal media is that which is also the least complained about, the least likely to have to settle damages out of court, and the least likely to be taken to court, and when it is, it's also more likely to win, as the Guardian did twice during the 90s? The tabloid press meanwhile continues to show itself invariably up as it is, as during the Mosley trial: unaccountable, lazy, disreputable, and downright nasty. It would be nice also if Dacre bothered to bring up examples of just where Davies was wrong in Flat Earth News, although I suspect it's because the book dedicated a whole chapter to the Mail, whilst the Mail itself has mentioned it twice, and that was prior to actual publication, even while the "liberal" press which he so disdains discussed and argued about its findings at some length. Half of this is because the tabloid press presents itself as infallible; the broadsheet media does not.



Fair enough. Newspapers should be constantly criticised. If you dish it, you should take it with bells on. The problem, I would argue tonight, is that this unrelenting and corrosive drip, drip, drip of criticism of the press does huge harm to our standing in the eyes of the politicians, the regulators, the judges, the public and, most pertinently, I suspect, to newspaper sales.

 In good times, such a poisoning of the well is unhelpful, to say the least. Today, with large parts of our industry fighting to stay alive, it is damnably, unforgivably and depressingly damaging. 

I am not a Jeremiah. I passionately believe that Britain has the best newspapers in the world and – indeed, our papers today are as good as they’ve ever been. Nostalgia be damned.

Gosh, anyone feel deja vu after Hazel Blears' similar rave last week? It couldn't be that the tabloid press gets everything it deserves could it, when it demands accountability at the BBC over authorised comedy pranks and then no one resigns when dozens of stories about Robert Murat result in huge payouts? In Dacre's eyes though there's nothing wrong with it, and after all, who are we to argue? He's the Daily Mail in the flesh, and the Daily Mail can never be wrong.

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Bloody hell, he does talk some bollocks over CFAs.

"Costs in CFA cases, as many of you here know, can be almost infinite with lawyers entitled to “success fees” of up to 100% on top of their actual bills."

No intelligent person could ever say that legal costs can be "almost infinite".

"This gives them a positive financial incentive to take relatively straight-forward cases, worth just a few thousand pounds, and run them as long as possible."

If he knew anything about English law, he would say that the winning party can only claim "reasonable legal costs". No Court would allow any legal fees to be incurred simply through the case dragging on unnecessarily or for any work that is done which was not required.

"Adding insult to injury, CFA claimants can take out very expensive ATE (after the event) insurance policies to protect themselves against costs. If they win, the paper has to pay the claimant’s premium,"

Again, the wining party can only pay what the Court considers to be reasonable. The Claimant may take out on an insurance policy that costs them thousands, but if the court considers that they could have got one for a few hundred, that's all they'll be allowed.

"In the event, they lost and were ordered to pay £5,000 in damages."

Legal cases aren't simply a case of how much it settles for. It might be a complex case which obviously would create a lot of work.

"The MP’s lawyers claimed costs of £388,000 – solicitor’s costs of £68,000, plus 100% success fees, barrister’s costs of £63,000, plus 100% success fees, VAT and libel insurance of £68,000."

They may claim this much, but won't be awarded that. They claim 100% due to case-law which says that the success fee can be reduced from say 100% to 50%, but if they only claim 50% at the start they then can't increase it later on if the prospects get worse.

A 100% success fee suggests that they only had a 50/50 chance of winning. As English libel law favours the Claimant, it would probably be reduced, again to what is considered to be reasonable. In any event, it could be a case that they could have their legal costs covered by some existing insurance policy, e.g. car insurance, so the success fee wouldn't be allowed at all.

Someone should pass Mr. Dacre a copy of the Civil Procedure Rules.

While I agree with you in general, I can't believe you're defending our libel laws. Anyone who thinks "someone saying you were a bit rude to someone else" is grounds for a court case should be horsewhipped to death, even if the first "someone" in question is Mr Dacre...

John

I can't tell if you're referring to me, but if you are I'm not "defending our libel laws". I'm merely stating that Dacre doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to legal costs.

I don't think I was defending them either, just pointing out the facts regarding the Jones case. In any event, if a newspaper ran a story saying I'd told someone to "fuck off" when I hadn't I'd want to do something about it; I doubt Jones ran straight to his lawyers. Going by Dacre's remarks, they decided to string it out in the hope that Jones would back down when they claimed they had solid witnesses; a jury subsequently decided they didn't. MoS's fault, not the libel laws.

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