The family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler has called on Prime Minister David Cameron to scrap the Jackson reforms, saying they were only able to sue the News of the World over the phone-hacking scandal because they did not have to pay for after-the-event (ATE) insurance.
Sally, Bob and Gemma Dowler told Mr Cameron – whom they met at the height of the scandal – saying they were sure he did “not want to go down in history as the prime minister who took rights away from ordinary people so that large newspapers could print whatever they like and break the law without being able to challenge them”.
The family is reputed to have secured a £3m settlement from News International, including donations to charity, but told Mr Cameron – and separately Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg – that they would not have been able to threaten their case, let alone start it, without ATE insurance recoverable from the other side.
The end of recoverability of ATE insurance and success fees is the key element of the Jackson reforms currently going through Parliament in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act.
The Dowlers said: “Although we may have received a sum that meant that the cost of the insurance would have been affordable, most cases finish with settlements that do not cover the cost of insurance and so people will not bother.”
A government spokesman said it was “absolutely committed to ensuring that people can access the justice system regardless of their financial situation, which is why we are committed to maintaining ‘no-win, no-fee’ arrangements.
“There are many deserving cases brought before the courts. But we have to stop the abuse of the system by others pursing excessive, costly and unnecessary cases. Under the current arrangements, innnocent defendants can face enormous costs, which can discourage them from fighting cases. This simply isn’t fair.”
He argued that by balancing the costs more fairly between claimant and defendant, the reforms will “ensure that claimants will still be able to bring deserving claims, and receive damages where they are due, and most importantly they will make the no-win, no-fee system sustainable for the future”.