NEWS
Libel reform victory
07 Jan 2011
BY EMILY BUTSELAAR

Nick CleggIndex on Censorship celebrates Nick Clegg’s commitment to overhaul England’s much-criticised libel laws

The Libel Reform Campaign today welcomes Nick Clegg’s pledge to reform defamation laws that have made England an international “laughing stock”.

In a speech this morning at the Institute of Government in London, the deputy prime minister will reveal that the government will address all the issues raised by the Libel Reform Campaign in its report, Free Speech Is Not For Sale. A draft defamation bill to be published in the  spring will clarify the existing defences of fair comment and justification. It will protect scientists, academics and journalists speaking out in the public interest with a new statutory defence.

Index on Censorship Chief Executive John Kampfner commented:

This is welcome news for the libel reform campaign. The deputy prime minister has not only acknowledged the chilling effect of our defamation laws, but taken our demands for reform fully on board. We’re delighted that that in tone and detail the draft bill will go a long way to tackling the chill on free speech emanating from English courts.

Jonathan Heawood, director of English PEN said:

We warmly welcome the deputy prime minister’s pledge to reform our rusting libel laws. PEN members have been calling for reform for over sixty years, so we are delighted that the government is making this manifesto commitment a priority. If the government follows through on Mr Clegg’s encouraging promises, the law will achieve a much more sensible balance between free expression and reputation. MPs must now ensure that the draft Bill lives up to these commitments, and that the measures are not watered down to please the rich libel tourists who currently abuse our system.

Tracey Brown of Sense About Science said:

The current libel laws are squashing free debate and expression about science, medicine, local government, corruption, biography, and consumer safety. It is squashing many more people now that we have internet publishing and individual blogs taking on these subjects. We think the government understands that now, but we know that there are many who would like to keep this system for silencing or bankrupting critics, so the deputy prime minister’s commitment to change is very important.

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