Northern Ireland lawyer to stars Paul Tweed wants it made easier, not harder, to sue
Published 01/05/2013 | 04:20
Mention libel tourism and the first Northern Ireland lawyer most people think of is Paul Tweed.
He is 35 years in the game and has represented A-list celebrities like Liam Neeson, Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Demi Moore, Colin Farrell, Nicholas Cage, Van Morrison and Harrison Ford in our courts.
He is one man who would prefer to have the new law kept out of Northern Ireland. In fact, he believes it should be made easier, not harder, to sue here.
"We are being treated as second-class citizens over here and that is why so few cases are coming to court in Northern Ireland. It is all loaded against the man in the street," he claimed.
In the US, a "public figure", like a movie star, can't sue without showing that a paper deliberately lied and didn't just make an honest mistake.
That doesn't apply in Ireland or the UK, so many stars retain lawyers like Paul Tweed to take action here.
"Celebrities can afford to sue here, but the biggest group I act for are journalists, followed by lawyers. Generally they can't afford to risk the cost and are putting their houses on the line unless the lawyer is able to waive fees if they lose," he said.
In Northern Ireland, unlike London, lawyers are forbidden from taking on cases on a "no win, no fee" basis. Mr Tweed and the Defamation Committee, a group of leading libel specialists chaired by Mr Justice Gillen, are lobbying Stormont for that provision to be changed here.
He argues that the level of legal costs awarded by courts here are too low to cover the complex work involved in successful libel actions. "The taxing master (who regulates legal bills) treats libel costs on the same basis as whiplash claims," he argued.
He points out that the number of cases brought here has actually fallen in recent years. Official figures show that only 41 libel writs were issued here between January 2012 and the beginning of March this year.
"The fact is that unless you have money you cannot bring a defamation action in Belfast" he said.
"As things stand, I prefer to act in Dublin, not Belfast."
Last October, for instance, he sued The Sun for Louis Walsh in Dublin and secured damages of €500,000 (£424,000).
He has more cases like that in the pipeline.