Thursday 4 November 2010

Libel law reform could come in by May 2012

A new Defamation Bill, aimed at reforming the libel laws, could come into force by May 2012, Lord Lester said today.

Speaking at the City University Reframing Libel Symposium, Lord Lester said the Government planned to introduce the new Bill no later than March next year and, after going through the Select Committee stage, it could become law in May 2012.

He added: "All three of the major parties are committed to comprehensive, balanced reform. I promise you it will happen within the next two years."

A more pessimistic note was struck by Roy Greenslade, also speaking at the symposium, who said he had little faith in politicians bringing in vital reforms to the libel laws.

His "shopping list" of reforms included: capping damages in libel cases; minimising legal expenses; ending success fees in cases involving Conditional Fee Agreements; stopping libel tourism; strengthening the defences of fair comment and public interest; and stopping treating big companies like individuals.

Greenslade said "I have very little faith about any of these very sensible measures coming to fruition."

Lord Lester has published a Private Member's Defamation Bill which would reform libel law. It's main points are:
  • Introduce a statutory defence of responsible publication on a matter of public interest;
  • Clarify the defences of justification and fair comment, renamed as ‘truth’ and ‘honest opinion’;
  • Respond to the problems of the internet age, including multiple publications and the responsibility of Internet Service Providers and hosters;
  • Protect those reporting on proceedings in parliament and other issues of public concern;
  • Require claimants to show substantial harm, and corporate bodies to show financial loss;
  • Encourage the speedy settlement of disputes without recourse to costly litigation.

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