The Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, has today released a statement regarding defamation cases [pdf]. This concerns the changes to the Civil Procedure Rules made by the Civil Procedure Rules Committee (“CPRC”) as a result of the coming into force of the Defamation Act 2013. Its purpose is to provide clarification and reassurance because of the very limited rule changes that have been made.
The Master of the Rolls noted that a number of members of Parliament had spoken of “the desirability of early resolution processes”. He points out that there already exists a formidable array of powers which judges can use to achieve these goals.
“Civil Procedure Rule 3 provides a judge with a wide range of options to intervene in cases and ‘call in’ parties at an early stage. For example in determining the order of issues to be dealt with, requiring parties to attend hearings and to “dismiss or give judgment on a claim after a decision on a preliminary issue”. Rule 3.4 gives the court the power to strike out a claim as an abuse of process or where there are no reasonable grounds for bringing the claim. The rules also provide for courts to take into account compliance with pre-action protocols, a specialist protocol being in place for defamation cases“
He says that the CPRC has considered and made amendments to the rules.
“In particular, a change has been made to Rule 26.11 to reflect the removal by the Act of the presumption to trial by jury in defamation cases. This will have the effect of giving judges greater scope to achieve early resolution. Previously some issues could not have been decided until a decision on whether there would be trial by jury had been taken”.
In fact, this amendment the only change in the Civil Procedure Rules made as a result of the Defamation Act 2013. It is required by section 11 of the Act and is in the following terms:
“Trial with a Jury
26.11. (1) An application for a claim, other than a claim for libel and slander, to be tried with a jury must be made within 28 days of service of the defence.
(2) A claim for libel or slander must be tried by Judge alone, unless at the first case management conference a party applies for trial with a jury and the court makes an order to that effect.”
The Master of the Rolls goes on to note that the Government has consulted on proposals for costs protection in defamation and privacy claims to ensure that people of modest means can bring and defend proceedings
The Master of the Rolls concludes as follows
“I am confident that the courts have the powers they need to ensure early resolution of defamation cases, and are fully aware of the importance of using these powers. The exercise of these powers will not be appropriate in every case, but it should be the aim wherever possible. Early resolution is desirable in defamation and privacy cases, as in other areas of litigation, to sort out disputes quickly and economically. It is particularly important in defamation cases, however, in view of the very high costs that can arise. All of us – Parliament, Government, the Judiciary, the CPRC and everyone with an interest in this area of law – will want to see the effects of the Act and the new procedural framework on cases and will expectto see earlier resolution of disputes than before”.