AMID Brexit, a second independence referendum and the collapse of the Scottish oil industry, I’m the first to admit press regulation is not gripping the nation as it did some years back but, for the happily disgruntled who need no invitation to give the UK Government a good kicking, may I present the Crime & Courts Act (CCA) 2013?

It contains as bad a piece of legislation as it’s possible to imagine, tantamount to government-sanctioned blackmail, which has its roots in the heady aftermath of the Leveson Inquiry when, having set the whole thing up in a rush, David Cameron was under pressure to act. Over pizzas on a Sunday night, a new system of regulation involving a Royal Charter for an approved regulator was thrashed out between Mr Cameron’s policy fixer Oliver Letwin, Labour trio Ed Miliband, Harriet Harman and Charles Falconer and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.

Cutting a long saga short, when it became clear no publisher of significance was prepared to sign up to any Government-backed scheme, an “incentive” was included in the CCA whereby courts would presume any publisher not signed up to an official regulator would pay both sides’ costs in any case involving “news-related material”, win or lose. It effectively means anyone with a complaint against a newspaper not in the Government-approved scheme will be free to sue, while the publisher is exposed to potentially ruinous costs even if it wins.

There is no shortage of people in the so-called liberal elite (it was the LibDems and Labour who made the running on this in the Coalition years) who will argue that, after phone hacking, the popular press had it coming but there are three points to make.

First and most obviously, it is just plain wrong to establish a framework in any area of law where the presumption is that a defendant must stump up the entire expense as a result of something for which the court rules was justified.

Secondly, there is the chilling effect on the freedom of the press to report, when editors know that every revelation can come with a massive legal price tag; for every embarrassing story the subjects would have a guaranteed way of inflicting financial retribution. Thirdly, it exposes publications that had never had anything to with phone hacking or celebrity gossip to exactly the same punitive regime, from the Financial Times to the Westmorland Gazette and every publisher of “news-related material” not in the government sanctioned system.

The CCA does not apply in Scotland, but that does not mean a Scottish title cannot be pursued in the English courts if a story appears on its website. And as most Scottish titles are owned by UK-wide publishers, ultimately any financial damage from legal action in the South will have an effect here. So if Trinity Mirror’s Sunday Mirror and Sunday People are sued then the Stirling Observer and Ayrshire Post will eventually feel some of the heat.

The good news is that these new measures have yet to be enforced because, so far, there is no officially approved regulator and, even with one, the Government must still trigger the CCA’s cost provisions through a statutory instrument. All this could change next week when the government-backed Press Recognition Panel (PRP) meets to approve its only applicant, Impress, an organisation bank-rolled by the ex-Formula One racing boss Max Mosely whose part in an orgy with prostitutes was exposed by the now defunct News of the World, a story for which he subsequently won substantial damages and costs for breach of privacy.

Impress has repeatedly failed key tests, one being relevance to the whole UK; it has no Scottish representation and its only Scottish customer is a small investigative website, The Ferret, praised by author Irvine Welsh for standing apart from mainstream media which, he says, ”with its wealthy proprietors now act solely as mouthpieces for the interests of an international elite”. Which bit of wealthy international elite doesn’t apply to Mosely? The PRP is increasingly desperate, desperate to approve Impress after two failed attempts, and desperate to gain a toe-hold in Scotland where it is irrelevant without something like the CCA. In its annual report published this month, the PRP plaintively called for the Scottish Parliament to pass similar legislation, but instead there is still an opportunity for Scottish politicians in Westminster to prevent the introduction of bad English law which has serious implications for Scottish publishers. Forget the BBC for a minute, SNP MPs can tell new culture secretary Karen Bradley she can stick this on the spike.

John McLellan is director of the Scottish Newspaper Society.