The Government has unveiled its draft Defamation Bill promising a long awaited reform of the libel laws and the ending of "unreasonable threats" of being sued for libel.
Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said: "The right to speak freely and debate issues without fear of censure is a vital cornerstone of a democratic society. In recent years though, the increased threat of costly libel actions has begun to have a chilling effect on scientific and academic debate, and investigative journalism.
"The Government's draft Defamation Bill will ensure that anyone who makes a statement of fact or expresses an honest opinion can do so with confidence.
"However it is never acceptable to harm someone's reputation without just cause, so the Bill will ensure defamation law continues to balance the needs of both sides and encourage a just outcome in libel cases."
The draft Bill includes provision for:
- A new 'public interest' defence which can be used by defendants in defamation cases.
- A requirement for claimants to demonstrate substantial harm before they can sue.
- Reducing so-called “libel tourism” by making it tougher to bring overseas claims which have little connection to the UK in the English courts.
- A single publication rule, meaning repeat claims for libel cannot be made every time a publication is accessed on the internet.
The consultation is open from today until 10 June.
The Libel Reform Campaign welcomes the government’s draft defamation bill as a good step in the right direction – but Parliament needs to go further in key areas
The Libel Reform Campaign led by English PEN, Index on Censorship and Sense About Science have welcomed the draft bill as "a great starting point" to ensure the first overhaul of "our archaic" libel laws, but calls upon Parliament to go further in key areas.
In particular, the campaign calls for:
• A stronger public interest defence.
• An end to the ability of corporations to sue for libel.
• More protection for web-hosts and internet service providers from liability for the words of others.