High profile case shines light on expensive costs in defamation claims
Unless you have been living on a secluded beach somewhere for the last week or so, you will not have been able to avoid the news that the long-awaited High Court trial between Rebekah Vardy and Collen Rooney has started.
Dubbed by the media as the Wagatha Christie trial, the case resolves around private information regarding Mrs Rooney, that was leaked to the Sun newspaper in 2019. In order to try and establish who had passed this information to the newspaper, Mrs Rooney created fake stories on her Instagram account and restricted access to them. After allegedly restricting access to just one account, Mrs Rooney took to social media to identify Mrs Vardy as the owner of the account which had leaked the personal information.
Mrs Vardy denied leaking the information and after Mrs Rooney refused to retract her statement, Mrs Vardy issued proceedings for libel in June 2020.
Mrs Rooney subsequently filed a defence to the proceedings in October 2020 asserting that the content of Mrs Rooney’s post was substantially true, namely that Mrs Vardy was responsible, either directly or through her agent, for leaking the private information to the press or, in the alternative, that it is in the public interest to defend the proceedings.
Mrs Vardy’s legal team is currently in the process of providing evidence to the Court. This has involved Mrs Vardy being subject to cross examination, which has led to several sensational headlines within the newspapers, including Mrs Vardy’s regret about making unflattering personal remarks about Peter Andre in a newspaper interview in 2004.
Mrs Rooney’s legal team will provide evidence later on in the trial. It is assumed that Mr & Mrs Rooney will provide evidence at the trial, and this will no doubt lead to further national newspaper headlines.
Irrespective of the outcome of this trial, this case has highlighted how expensive legal costs can be for this type of litigation, with costs for both parties estimated to be in excess of £1 million. Whilst in no way can it be said that these amounts of costs are typical of every libel or defamation trial which takes place, they do highlight that this type of litigation can be very expensive to pursue to a contested trial.
The recovery of legal costs is at the discretion of the Court, with the usual position being that the successful party will usually be able to recover their legal costs from the losing party.
This does not, however, mean that the successful party will be able to recover all their costs, as the Court will routinely discount amounts claimed on the basis that not all the party’s costs were reasonably incurred, reasonable in amount or proportionate according to the rules for assessment. This usually means that the successful party will be able to recover approximately 60% to 80% of their total budgeted costs.
If the estimate of the parties’ costs in this case are accurate, this would mean that the successful party could potentially still face a bill in excess of £300,000.
Even if Mrs Vardy is successful in her libel claim, it is generally anticipated that she will receive damages in region of between £20,000 to £45,000. Consequently, it makes very little financial sense for either party to proceed with this matter. The only reason to progress with the litigation appears to be a matter of principle.
Whilst the parties in this matter appear to be in the fortunate position of being able to afford to risk such sums on a matter of principle, that cannot be said for most litigants.
Accordingly, for most parties involved in such matters it is important to seek expert advice at the initial stage of the case in order attempt to reach an early resolution of the dispute without incurring substantial costs.
Whilst the matter may still progress through the litigation process, there are also other alternative ways to resolve disputes of this nature and it is important to obtain advice regarding them at any early stage.