Tuesday, 15 March 2011

New Defamation Bill promises an end to 'unreasonable threats' of being sued for libel

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.
A consultation paper has also been launched alongside the draft Bill, which includes questions on a number of other areas. These include the role of the internet, and a new court procedure to cut court costs in libel actions by encouraging early resolution of key issues.

The Government will then consider whether these measures should be included when the Bill is put before Parliament.

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.

John Kampfner, chief executive of Index on Censorship, said: “I know that certain publications will not write about billionaire businessmen because the costs of a single libel action could ruin them. The government’s draft defamation bill is a big step forward towards ending the practice of libel tourism which has led our Courts to silence free speech around the world. But without action to reduce the cost of a libel trial, reform will protect the free speech of some, but costs will silence others.”

1 comment:

Richard Sharpe contentetc said...

It's all an anti-climax. There should have been a requirement for the claimant to go into the box and say on oath it is false and that they were actually damaged. Then they could be crossexamined. And presecuted if they lied.