The Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, will today announce reform of English libel law at a mass lobby of Parliament organised by The Libel Reform Campaign led by English PEN, Index on Censorship and Sense About Science.
The Justice Secretary will outline the Government is committed to a single publication rule; a consultation into whether a statutory public interest defence can be developed in a way which balances competing interests concerning freedom of expression and reputation; procedural changes around rules and practice in relation to service out of the jurisdiction, to deal with “libel tourism” and work on other procedural issues e.g. early resolution of meaning and strengthening the pre-action protocol to stop lawyers running up unnecessary costs.
The commitment by the Labour Government comes after Nick Clegg committed the Liberal Democrats to radical reform on 18 January. Campaigners and now asking David Cameron whether the Conservative Party will commit to reform.
The Libel Reform Campaign is “pleased that action is being taken” but has asked for a commitment from the government to reform:
- A clearer defence of “fair comment” in law;
- Removal of internet chat and interactive online services like blogs from liability
- Preventing corporations and associations from using libel law , restricting them to malicious falsehood.
Jo Glanville, the Editor of Index on Censorship said
Labour have shown a commitment to freedom of expression, albeit a late one, by clearly stating they will reform our libel laws. We’re pleased Jack Straw has taken our recommendations seriously, and has come up with some significant proposed reforms, though we would like to see a clearer fair comment defence and an exemption of corporations from libel law.
Tracey Brown, the Managing Director of Sense About Science said:
It would be ludicrous for any party to suggest we should continue with these unfair and ridiculed libel laws that’s why we’re glad Labour have announced a commitment to reform. We need freedom of speech that we can exercise confidently, to discuss science and medicine or any other subject of public interest. Not semi-feudal laws that tie people up in court for two years and chill public discussion.
Jonathan Heawood, the Director of English PEN said:
We still haven’t heard from the Tories who claim to be championing individual liberty. We hope David Cameron will listen to the 44,000 people who have signed the libel reform petition. The level of popular support for reform shows that this law is not just about journalists but human rights activists, scientists and academics, even mothers chatting online: free expression really is an issue for everyone.
The Libel Reform Campaign is a coalition of English PEN, Index on Censorship and Sense About Science.