Tuesday 10 November 2009

Ways to end Britain's libel lottery at last

A new report Free Speech is Not For Sale out today on Britain's libel laws by PEN and Index on Censorship makes major recommendations for reform. They include:
Capping libel damages at £10,000 and making an apology the chief remedy;
Shifting the burden of proof so claimants have to demonstrate damage;
Preventing cases from being heard in London unless 10% of copies of the offending publication are circulated in England;
Stopping large and medium-sized companies from being able to launch libel actions unless they can prove malicious falsehood;
Making some internet comments exempt as part of efforts to reflect the arrival of the world wide web;
Establishing a libel tribunal, along the lines of employment tribunals, as an alternative to expensive full court trials;
Reducing the prohibitive cost of defending libel actions by capping base costs and making success fees non-recoverable;
Strengthening the public interest defence and expanding the definition of fair comment.
The introduction to the report states: "After a year-long inquiry, English PEN and Index on Censorship have concluded that English libel law has a negative impact on freedom of expression, both in the UK and around the world.
"Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, and should only be limited in special circumstances. Yet English libel law imposes unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on free speech, sending a chilling effect through the publishing and journalism sectors in the UK.
"This effect now reaches around the world, because of so-called 'libel tourism', where foreign cases are heard in London, widely known as a 'town named sue'.
"The law was designed to serve the rich and powerful, and does not reflect the interests of a modern democratic society.
"In this report, we cut through the intimidating complexity of English libel law to show how the legal framework has become increasingly unbalanced.
"We believe that the law needs to facilitate the free exchange of ideas and information, whilst offering redress to anyone whose reputation is falsely or unfairly damaged. Yet our inquiry has shown that the law as it stands is hindering the free exchange of ideas and information.
"We repeatedly encountered the same concerns, expressed by lawyers, publishers, journalists, bloggers and NGOs, who have no wish to abolish libel law, but know from experience of its chilling effect on legitimate publication."
Speaking in a debate at City University last month, John Kampfner, chief executive of Index on Censorship, said today's report could be a point around which libel law reformers could rally to stop the chill of self-censorship created by the fear of costly libel actions.


Domonique Jenkins said...

Hi, I am a first year at Winchester University, studying Journalism.

I have recently set up my own blog to put out my own ideas and views about the news, seminars and lectures.

I found this post of yours to be very useful as part of my course is Law in Journalism. We have recently been learning about libel, censorship and investigative journalism.

Thanks for the interesting post, I look forward to reading future posts, Domonique Jenkins

DocRichard said...

Thanks for the tweet on this. Your summary is included in a wiki on TransNational Corporations: