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SoE welcomes Conservative pledge to repeal Section 40


18 May 2017

SoE

The Society of Editors has today welcomed a manifesto pledge by the Conservative party to repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act if they are elected on 8 June.  

Speaking after the publication of the Conservative manifesto which pledged not to commence the controversial legislation and not to proceed with the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry, the Society of Editors has said that the commitment would enhance press freedom in the UK.

The Society of Editors said: “The Society has today wholeheartedly welcomed the Conservative manifesto commitment to repeal Section 40 if the party is elected next month.

“The role of a free press that is vociferous and investigative in holding power to account is something even its fiercest critics claim is vital in a democratic society and yet too many politicians have been steadfast in lending support to a piece of legislation which, if proposed in any other country, would have our democratic instincts up in arms. While the Society does not support any one political point of view, it is regrettable to see that other parties are fighting the election on manifestos which fail to deliver commitments to safeguarding freedom of expression.

The Society has previously led a high profile campaign to oppose the commencement of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act which, if enacted, could see newspapers that are not signed up to a Royal Charter-backed regulator, forced to pay both sides' costs in privacy and defamation cases regardless of whether or not they successfully defend an application.

The Society added: “As many editors made clear publicly through their papers during the consultation process, Section 40 costs orders would have a seriously chilling effect on their work and, to put it simply, they would be less inclined to pursue investigations in the public interest when the risk of crippling legal costs would be increased.

“There has been an arduous 300-year battle to achieve press freedom and freedom of expression in the UK and we welcome the Conservative party’s recognition that Section 40 would be a giant step backwards.  In a year in which the threat of such illogical legislation has seen the UK fall once again in the World Press Freedom Index, the repeal of Section 40 would ensure that other countries continue to look to the UK as a nation that upholds and protects the values it seeks to promote abroad.”

The manifesto pledges to not go ahead with the second stage of the inquiry into police and media relationships and corporate governance “given the comprehensive nature of the first stage of the Leveson Inquiry” and the “lengthy investigations by the police and Crown Prosecution Service”.

On Section 40 the manifesto states: “We will repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2014 which, if enacted, would force media organisations to become members of a flawed regulatory system or risk having to pay the legal costs of both sides in libel and privacy cases, even if they win.”  The party has also vowed to ensure content creators are appropriately rewarded for the content they make online and to promote consistency in the regulation of online and offline media.


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