The Libel Reform Campaign is calling for the government to honour manifesto promises for a defamation bill with a strong public interest defence to protect authors, bloggers, scientists, academics and NGOs
The campaign, led by English PEN, Index on Censorship and Sense About Science calls for the government to legislate now and welcomed the Joint Committee’s recognition that the laws need “rebalancing”. The committee accepted the campaign’s call for restrictions on the automatic right for corporations to sue; that actions ought only to be brought where there is ‘serious and substantial’ harm; and that the government need to tackle the length and expense of libel actions through mediation and Early Neutral Evaluation. The committee is the latest body to support reform.
Over 50,000 people have signed the Libel Reform Campaign’s call for a government bill to reform English libel law, at the last election all three main parties made manifesto pledges to change the law and in May 2010 a commitment to reform became part of the coalition agreement.
The committee has made a number of recommendations in line with the Libel Reform Campaign’s proposals, namely the relevance of the current public interest defence, determining if a claim has serious and substantial harm, the internet, the involvement of big corporations chilling free speech, and reducing the cost of libel cases in the UK, which are estimated to cost 140 times the European average.
John Kampfner, Chief Executive, Index on Censorship said:
In the last decade, journalists have been hampered from exposing those with power because of our restrictive libel laws. With media reform high on the agenda, the government must include the defamation bill in the next Queen’s speech.
Jonathan Heawood, Director, English PEN added:
This is yet another powerful voice for reform of our archaic libel laws. When President Obama acted to protect Americans from unfair libel judgements in the UK, it was a national humiliation. With this report we finally have cross-party consensus on the detail of how to reform the law. The government must act now.
Tracey Brown, Managing Director, Sense About Science said:
Scientists are being dragged through the courts for discussing evidence. This report adds to the case that our libel laws are stifling open science. We need to see a Bill that has high thresholds for bringing a case, a clear public interest defence and equality of arms in the courtroom, and that can’t come soon enough.