Libel cases don’t come on the cheap. But the cost of the cases could be reduced, according to a new report from a British group appropriately named Alternative Libel Project.

Libel cases don’t come on the cheap. But the cost of the cases could be reduced, according to a new report from a British group appropriately named Alternative Libel Project.

The lawyer for the Project, Helen Anthony, told Journalism.co.uk that the matter of costs was “at the heart of the issue.” She continued:

"If a person can't afford to take a case to court it doesn't matter how perfect the law is they won't be able to enforce the rights the law gives them."

She added that in defamation "it is very important protection is available for one party or the other" as there can be "different inequalities of arms".

"Defamation [cases] can either have a big defendant and a small claimant, or you could have a small defendant and a big claimant."

Some alternatives that the report suggests include mediation and early neutral evaluation (in which a judge gives opinion on the merit of a case in a short hearing). According to journalism.co.uk, the report suggests that those who do not comply with pursuing such alternatives be penalized.

This "inequalities of arms," of course, is not a problem unique to the UK.

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In North America, the discussion regarding the abuse of process and unequal legal playing fields spreads a wider net. Instead of focusing on only reducing the costs of libel suits, there are proponents for legislation that is anti-SLAPP—that is, Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. Meaning, lawsuits that attempt to intimidate someone from speaking out on public issues. These include defamation suits against media organizations.

According to a 2008 report for the Uniform Law Conference of Canada, SLAPP suits began in the 1990s when a number of companies filed suits against groups or citizens speaking out about public issues. Some of the first suits to be identified as SLAPPs included a report on highway safety, and an article criticizing an electronics store.

Rhiannon Russell summed up Canada’s effort to enact anti-SLAPP legislation (BC had some briefly in 2001, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia didn’t pass theirs in 2003, Quebec passed its in 2009, and Ontario is still thinking about it) and compared it to the United States, where 28 states have legislation that protects against suits that abuse the process.

The Uniform Law Conference report explains the existing methods for deterring abuse of process, but also notes that they have not been relatively effective in relieving the effects of SLAPP suits.