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New court rules: media claims on the move

01 October 2019

From today, 1 October 2019, all High Court claims that include a claim for defamation, misuse of private information, data protection and/or harassment by publication must be issued in the Media and Communications List (“the List”) in the Queen’s Bench Division. A claim that involves the publication or threatened publication of information via the media, online, or the activities of the media may also be issued in the List.

What are the new rules?

The following new set of rules, practice directions and a new pre-action protocol have been introduced for this:

  1. A new CPR Part 53 governing media and communication claims;
  2. A new Practice Direction 53A for transferring proceedings to and from the List;
  3. A new Practice Direction 53B governing media and communications claims including, for example, specific requirements for the contents of statements of case; and
  4. A new Pre-action Protocol for media and communications claims.

What is the context for the changes?

The List was actually created in 2017, but was not a designated specialist list and use of it has been limited. Making commencement of these sorts of claims in the List mandatory is a timely response to the increased number of claims in this area. The Chancery Division will still have jurisdiction to hear claims with a media and communications element and cases can be transferred to and from the List, depending on what the court considers is the most appropriate forum.

What are the key changes?

Key changes include:

  1. Pre-Action Protocol: the old pre-action protocol for defamation claims has been replaced by a new, wider pre-action protocol which covers all media and communication claims. It details pre-actions steps and the content of a pre-action letter. The new protocol recognises that time is often “of the essence” in media and communications claims. In a nod to the increase in unrepresented individuals bringing these claims, the new protocol also requires litigants in person to comply with it “…in so far as reasonably possible”. The alternative dispute resolution section has also been updated to include referral to a “press regulator” or their arbitration scheme.
  2. High Court or County Court: there is no longer a requirement for a media and communications claim to have a value of over £100,000 in order to qualify for being commenced in the High Court. Instead, there is a list of factors that have to be considered to warrant the High Court being more appropriate: the financial value; complexity; and public importance of the issues. There is an exception for libel or slander claims, which may only be issued in the County Court if the parties agree.
  3. Media Judges: there is formal recognition of a new category of judges called "Media and Communications List Judges". They will hear all claims in the List with the Queen’s Bench Division Masters, except urgent applications when one of these judges is not available. Mr Justice Warby’s position as the Judge in charge of the List is also made formal in the new rules.

Moving with the times

The List is recognition of the volume of these cases coming through the courts at the moment. It is a positive, proactive step that should lead to greater consistency by specialist judges, in an area that has considerably changed and expanded in the last few decades. In the era of social media, digital profiles and increased awareness over privacy and data ownership, the courts will need to keep up with this changing landscape.

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