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Conservatives make libel reform pledge
08 Apr 2010
BY INDEX ON CENSORSHIP

conservativelogoIndex welcomes new Conservative pledge to libel reform — all three main political parties are now committed to reform of our libel laws

The Libel Reform Campaign led by English PEN, Index on Censorship and Sense About Science have welcomed today’s commitment by Dominic Grieve, the Shadow Justice Secretary, to a Libel Reform Bill in the next Parliament. The commitment comes as the three major parties jostle to portray themselves as the party for libel reform, after the failed attempt to cut lawyers’ fees in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

The Conservative Shadow Justice Secretary, Dominic Grieve QC MP said:

The Conservative party is committed, if elected, to undertaking a fundamental review of the libel laws with a view to enacting legislation to reform them. This reform could best be done by means of a separate Libel Bill and this is the preferred approach for us.

The new Conservative position has delighted campaigners as now all three main political parties are committed to reform of our libel laws. The Conservatives have also made clear that libel reform will be in their forthcoming manifesto.

The Libel Reform Campaign has galvanised 48,000 supporters and persuaded the majority of eligible MPs to sign a Parliamentary Early Day Motion. The national campaign is believed to be the first campaign by an NGO this year to get a manifesto commitment from all three major parties.

Jack Straw committed to a Labour manifesto pledge to reforming English libel law at a mass-lobby of Parliament organised by the Libel Reform Campaign on 23 March, following his establishment of a working-party into reform of the libel laws that commenced in February. Nick Clegg, the leader of The Liberal Democrats, made the same commitment on 18 January.

John Kampfner, the CEO of Index on Censorship, said:

After the long-awaited cut to lawyers’ fees was blocked in the House of Commons this week, we’re delighted by this good news from the Conservative Party. Now, all three major political parties are committed to a Libel Reform Bill in the next Parliament.

Jonathan Heawood, the Director of English PEN said:

To have every major political party committed to reform of our libel laws shows politicians have woken up to the extent of the problem after our year-long campaign. We really do need to see primary legislation in the new Parliament.

Tracey Brown, the Managing Director of Sense About Science said:

The main political parties have committed to libel reform after our campaign energised 48,000 across the country with public talks, a huge comedy gig and our supporters sending tens of thousands of emails and letters to MPs. We’ll be keeping this momentum up after the election and we know how easily this important reform could be sidelined once the election campaign is over.

2 responses to “Conservatives make libel reform pledge”

  1. Paul Tweed says:

    Having served on the UK Justice Secretary’s Working Group on Libel Reform, and as a media lawyer of more than thirty years standing, acting for both Claimants and Defendants in defamation litigation, I would express my dismay and concern in relation to the respective pledges of the three main political parties’ to review the UK libel legislation.

    I believe that our existing libel laws are both fair and balanced, as outlined in the Mullis/Scott Report, with the ongoing attempts to undermine our laws by both the press and the political parties, being motivated by self-interest on the part of the former and an attempt to curry favour with the media by the latter.

    Amidst the smokescreen of vitriol directed towards international litigants, while highlighting concerns of the scientific and academic community, a fundamental interest has been conveniently overlooked, namely that of the ordinary working man on the street. His rights are being gradually undermined and stripped away from him in circumstances where he is not entitled to legal aid, and where he is up against often overwhelming odds in taking on the financial might of the publishing industry. Recent moves to curb conditional fee arrangements and the recovery of “After the Event” insurance premiums further serve to deny the general population the right and opportunity to protect their reputation, leaving them fair game to the whims of the tabloid press.

    While I would support any specific moves to protect scientific and academic research and debate, I would nonetheless point out that, over the years, I have also been called upon to represent research scientists and academics who have had to resort to litigation in order to protect their own individual reputations against the might of pharmaceutical and other corporate giants. The plight of these individuals appears to have been overlooked in the current media frenzy.

    16th April 2010

    Paul Tweed
    Senior Partner
    Johnsons Solicitors
    Belfast – Dublin – London