Tamsin Allen is a partner at Bindmans and head of their media and information law team. In this blog post, she speaks about her work for a group of women defending a libel claim, which was funded through CrowdJustice.
1) Why were your clients raising funds on CrowdJustice?
I act for a group of women who are defending a libel claim. The claim is being brought by a male musician against six women (my clients are three of them). He claims that they got together to create a false narrative about him being emotionally and sexually abusive. The women say that they independently publicised what they knew about him to warn other women in the industry.
The male musician instructed solicitors to pursue this claim and the women, including my clients, have no choice but to defend the claim. They are defending the allegations on the basis that they are true, which is expensive because the burden of proving the truth of their allegations rests on them.
The consequences for these women in not having the money to pay for a solicitor in such circumstances are catastrophic. One woman (not one I act for) failed to respond to the claim and judgment in default was entered against her. This has serious consequences and she will have to incur additional costs to try and have that set aside. My clients have no choice but to defend the proceedings, and incur legal costs in doing so.
Without raising funds on CrowdJustice, there would be no other way for my clients to afford legal representation.
2) Do you have any thoughts about the underlying issues?
Speaking generally about this issue rather than this case in particular, there are a number of cases before the media judges at the moment involving allegations of domestic or sexual abuse, such as Lachaux v Independent Print Limited, and judgment was recently handed down by the Supreme Court in Stocker v Stocker. While people who are wrongly accused do need to be able to protect themselves, there is a risk that abuse will continue unchecked if victims cannot speak out about it.
Libel law is a blunt instrument to deal with this complex and sensitive area. It puts the burden of proof onto the person making the allegations, and there is usually no legal aid available. The law in this area is designed to deal with allegations made by the mass media, not by emotionally or physically battered women trying to recover from intensely traumatic experiences. In my view, there needs to be judicial training and recognition of the specific issues arising out of cases of this sort.
3) Which costs are being funded through CrowdJustice?
Funding on CrowdJustice helps to pay for our fees and counsel’s fees. It’s not possible for us to act on a ‘no win, no fee’ in this case without crowdfunding, because such an arrangement is only viable if the other side in the litigation has the ability to pay our fees in the event of a win. We are not convinced the claimant in this case can do this. Therefore, we agreed to act on a ‘no win, low fee’ agreement and to raise money via crowdfunding. The counsel team we’ve instructed, Lorna Skinner and Aidan Wills of Matrix Chambers, are also acting on the same basis.
A case like this costs hundreds of thousands of pounds to defend. Having the chance to raise funds through CrowdJustice makes a huge difference to women being able to speak the truth.
4) Did raising funds on CrowdJustice make a difference to the legal action?
It meant that we could act in this case, when we otherwise couldn’t. While we are able to act on Conditional Fee Agreements in other cases, if an opponent can’t pay our fees, the business model of CFAs doesn’t work. Legal aid is almost never available for libel defendants and CrowdJustice provides another means of funding.
Recently, more and more individuals have become publishers through writing on Twitter, online blogs etc., and it is more likely that an opponent will be an individual and not, for example, a media organisation with insurance, where a CFA is viable. As a result, funding through CrowdJustice has been crucial in this area, and makes the difference between being able to accept instructions and not being able to.
5) What did you find most surprising about funding on CrowdJustice?
It was surprisingly quick to start. When there was an urgent need for funding, I was surprised how quickly we were able to set up the procedure and to get our clients going with the fundraising.
You can see Tamsin's clients' CrowdJustice page here.
Want to learn more about funding for legal action?
Questions? Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.