Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Article 50, yes: Section 40, No!

I respect the democratic decision taken by the British people on 23rd June 2016 and therefore the government should proceed with the plan to trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017.

However, if you here someone referring to "Section 40" they're not talking about the EU but about one of the most illiberal measures ever placed on the British statute book (though not yet activated.)

The British press is often inaccurate, unfair, destructive, sensationalist, malicious and has a lot to answer for.

But that is part of the price of freedom.

And if there is one measure which is guaranteed not to improve British journalism, it is imposing costs on newspapers or any other press organisation for telling the truth.

That is what section 40, if triggered, would do.

Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act means that if someone sues a newspaper or publisher for writing something he or she does not like, and the news organisation concerned has refused to sign up to the government press regulator "Impress" then the legal costs of both sides can be charged to the newspaper concerned even if they win the action and the report was completely true.

Most of Britain's newspapers have refused to sign up to Impress because they disagree with the principle of government controlling what the press can say.

So if Section 40 is triggered there is a real danger that anyone who does not like what the press write about them will be able to punish the papers concerned by bringing an action and claiming legal costs even when they lose and even when what had been written was accurate.

This is intolerable.

Section 40 is part of the legacy of the Leveson inqury, which followed some serious abuses by part of the British press - but it is worth remembering that the courts have subsequently shown that pre-existing law was adequate to deal with most of the serious abuses by the press, sending a number of journalists and editors including some of the most powerful people in the land to prison.

The government is rightly having second thoughts about whether to activate Section 40 and Culture Secretary Karen Bradley is consulting on whether this egregious law should be brought into effect. She told MPs last month that a number of editors of local newspapers were concerned that the exemplary damages section could put out them of business and certainly “would impact on their ability to do investigative journalism”.

Too right!

There is an excellent article by Rachael Jolley of Index on Censorship on the Telegraph website here which includes details of how to respond to the consultation.

I hope Karen Bradley gets lots of responses telling her not to implement Section 40 and that she heeds that advice.


Jim said...

think you meant trigger article 50 before March 2017

I do that a lot as well, date things with last years date until around the end of Feb.

Chris Whiteside said...

Indeed, thank you, Now corrected.