English PEN and Index on Censorship, two organisations committed to freedom of expression, embarked on the Alternative Libel Project last April and have spent the last year considering whether defamation claims can be resolved in a better way than by using the current High Court process. The project was funded by the Nuffield Foundation, and Index and PEN have had support and advice throughout from members of an expert advisory committee, chaired by Sir Stephen Sedley. The project’s final report, in which Index and PEN make recommendations for change was launched in the middle of March.
The report calls for a culture change but does not contain radical proposals, except perhaps on costs, although even here our recommendations are not without precedent in other areas of law. Instead it concentrates on improving the current system, ensuring judicial encouragement for parties to use methods of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), and calls for consistent, robust case management so that the court, and not a wealthy party, controls the litigation. The details of our recommendations can be found in the report, so I will not repeat them here. Instead, I’d like to expand on our thinking on three key issues.