Friday, 7 January 2011

Clegg: 'We'll stop libel laws being a laughing stock'

This is an extract from Nick Clegg's speech today on restoring British liberties which relates to reform of the libel laws:

"In opposition my party made clear that we wanted to see English libel laws reformed.

Almost exactly a year ago I made that case in a speech to the Royal Society. I argued that English libel laws are having a chilling effect on scientific debate and investigative journalism.

Of course, individual citizens must be able to protect their reputations from false and damaging claims; and we can’t allow companies to be the victim of damaging, untrue and malicious statements.

But, equally, we want public-spirited academics and journalists to be fearless in publishing legitimate research. Not least when it relates to medical care or public safety.

The test of a free press is its capacity to unearth the truth, exposing charlatans and vested interests along the way.

It is simply not right when academics and journalists are effectively bullied into silence by the prospect of costly legal battles with wealthy individuals and big businesses.

Nor should foreign claimants be able to exploit these laws, bringing cases against foreign defendants here to our courts – even if the connection with England is tenuous.

It is a farce – and an international embarrassment - that the American Congress has felt it necessary to legislate to protect their citizens from our libel laws.

This Government wants to restore our international reputation for free speech.

We will be publishing a draft defamation bill in the Spring. We intend to provide a new statutory defence for those speaking out in the public interest, whether they be big broadcasters or the humble blogger. And we intend to clarify the law around the existing defences of fair comment, and justification.

We believe claimants should not be able to threaten claims on what are essentially trivial grounds. We are going to tackle libel tourism. And we’re going to look at how the law can be updated to better reflect the realities of the internet.

Separately, we are also going to address the high costs of defamation proceedings. As part of that we have published a consultation paper on proposals by Lord Justice Jackson to reform civil litigation funding – and in particular no win no fee arrangements – to make costs more proportionate, more fair.

Our aim is to turn English libel laws from an international laughing stock to an international blueprint."

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