Naomi Campbell case ruling could end huge 'win' fees for lawyers

Landmark case: The lawyers in the Naomi Campbell privacy case should not have been able to collect huge bonuses the European Court of Human Rights has ruled

The vast ‘success fees’ claimed by lawyers in some celebrity privacy cases break human rights laws, European judges have ruled. 

Those working for supermodel Naomi Campbell should not have been able to demand £365,000 in bonuses when she won a landmark privacy case against a British newspaper, they said. 

In contrast to the legal fees, Miss Campbell was awarded compensation of just £3,500. 

The judgment at the European Court of Human Rights means that ‘no-win no-fee’ rules brought in by Labour in the 1990s will have to be rewritten to cut the amounts charged.

Success fees unfairly discourage newspapers, broadcasters and individuals from writing and speaking freely, the Strasbourg judges said yesterday.

They are now considering ordering the Government to pay the Daily Mirror hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation. This would mean that taxpayers will carry the burden and Miss Campbell’s lawyers will keep their unfair fees.

The 40-year-old took the newspaper to court after it said in 2001 that, despite public denials she used drugs, she was having treatment for addiction. 

There were pictures taken secretly of her going to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.
Yesterday the European judges upheld a decision by the British House of Lords in 2004 that the paper breached her privacy. 

Lawyers in no-win no-fee cases can, if they win the case, charge the losing side success fees that amount to 100 per cent of the costs they run up.

In the Campbell case, solicitors and barristers claimed success fees from the newspaper of 95 per cent and 100 per cent of their costs. 

The European judges said this ‘chilled’ free speech because newspapers faced with such costs would give in rather that fight in court.

The system also meant there was nothing to stop celebrities running up unconstrained costs and lawyers could cherry-pick the most lucrative cases.

The decision was welcomed by leading lawyers yesterday.

Senior barrister and media law expert Gavin Millar QC said: ‘This is a ground-breaking ruling. It is a shame that the Mirror had to go to a European court to get justice. It brings shame on us.’

A spokesman for the Daily Mirror’s owners MGN said: ‘This has been a long hard fight ... but we have been proved right.’