Some of the fees the Daily Mirror had to pay supermodel Naomi Campbell after losing a lawsuit were too high, the European high court has ruled.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled against the paper having to pay the “success fee” the supermodel agreed to pay her lawyers on top of other legal costs, arguing it didn’t fit the offence.
In 2004, Naomi won her battle against the Daily Mirror, which printed photographs in 2001 showing her leaving a drug counselling meeting. Britain’s highest court ruled the paper breached the star’s privacy by running the photos and a story detailing her treatment.
The model testified at the time that she felt “shocked, angry, betrayed and violated” by the piece.
The Strasbourg court said the “success fees” were more than £365,000 as part of over £1 million in costs, and called them disproportionate.
The judges said there is a risk to media reporting and freedom of expression if the potential costs of defending a case risked putting pressure on the media and newspaper publishers to settle cases that could have been defended.
British libel laws place the burden of proof on the defendant to show what it published was true. But many other countries – including the US – require plaintiffs to prove a published article was both false and written with malicious intent.
“This judgment is a clarion call for the UK judiciary to put libel costs under the microscope,” said media law specialist Mark Stephens, who helped prepare a submission on free speech to the Strasbourg court and called the ruling an “amazingly good result”.
The Daily Mirror welcomed the ruling, saying that after a long hard fight it has “been proved right” about success fees.