Culture secretary Matt Hancock confirmed on Thursday that section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, which has been lying dormant since that Act was introduced in 2013, would be withdrawn from the UK statute book.
Under section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, newspapers that are members of a recognised self-regulator would be exempt from paying their opponent's legal costs in cases brought before court, such as in libel trials. Newspapers not members of that recognised self-regulator would face having to pay the legal costs of their opponents in litigation, even if they won the underlying dispute. The legislation, however, has yet to be brought into force.
For section 40 to be brought into effect, implementing regulations needed to be introduced before parliament. However, Hancock said that few respondents to a consultation on the issue favoured such a move. He said the section 40 provisions "would exacerbate the problems the press face rather than solve them".
"Respondents [to the consultation] were worried that it would impose further financial burdens, especially on the local press… Only 7% of direct respondents favoured full commencement of section 40. By contrast, 79% favoured full repeal… We have decided not to commence section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and to seek repeal at the earliest opportunity," he said.
In a statement delivered before the UK parliament, Hancock also confirmed that the second stage of the Leveson inquiry, which was to investigate links between the press and the police, will not take place.
The first stage of the inquiry, which was conducted by judge Sir Brian Leveson, looked at the culture, practices and ethics of the press. Sir Brian reported his findings on that aspect of the inquiry back in 2012.
Hancock said: "Sir Brian … agrees that the Inquiry should not proceed on the current terms of reference but believes that it should continue in an amended form. We do not believe that reopening this costly and time-consuming public inquiry is the right way forward."
"Considering all of the factors … I have informed Sir Brian that we will be formally closing the inquiry," he said.