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By Emily Butselaar / 9 May 2012
The government will introduce a law “to protect freedom of speech and reform the law of defamation”
The libel reform campaign, nearly 100 organisations and our 60,000 supporters including leading names from science, the arts and public life have been calling for legislation to reform the libel laws since December 2009. Congratulations to all on this momentous stage.
Now we need to see the details of the Bill and will work to ensure the reforms will do away with unwarranted chilling, bullying effects of the current laws.
Over the coming months, the Libel Reform Campaign [ a coaliton of three charities: Index on Censorship, English PEN and Sense about Science] will continue to fight for:
- a public interest defence so people can defend themselves unless the claimant can show they have been malicious or reckless.
- a strong test of harm that strikes out claims unless the claimant can demonstrate serious and substantial harm and they have a real prospect of vindication.
- a restriction on corporations’ ability to use the libel laws to silence criticism
Jonathan Heawood, Director, English PEN: “Over the past three years, the Libel Reform Campaign has shown how our unfair libel laws are causing legitimate books to be pulped and publishers to engage in unnecessary self-censorship. The Government has responded to the public demand for change, and we welcome this long-overdue chance for reform. It must now ensure that the protections for free speech are as robust as possible. This means strengthening its current proposals on public interest reporting, and also reforming the procedures that judges use to apply the law.”
Tracey Brown, Managing Director, Sense About Science: “We and thousands of others have campaigned to stop the libel laws’ bullying and chilling effects on discussions about health, scientific research, consumer safety, history and human rights. We are really pleased to see the Government has moved closer to honouring its promise of a fairer law and protection of free speech in today’s Queen’s Speech. This opens the way to developing a law guided by public interest not powerful interests.”
Kirsty Hughes, Chief Executive, Index on Censorship: “Finally, the government is to stop libel tourism so wealthy foreign claimants can no longer use our High Court to silence their critics abroad. The 60,000 people who signed the Libel Reform Campaign will be delighted that the government has announced this reform, though we’ll be awaiting the detail.”
Simon Singh, defendant in British Chiropractic Association v Singh:“I continue to be contacted by journalists, scientists and others who are being silenced by libel threats or libel claims. The reform promised in the Queen’s speech today is a welcome response to the intolerable effects of the current laws. I hope that the Government will now move rapidly to bring forward a bill that protects those writing about serious matters in the public interest.”
Jo Glanville, Editor, Index on Censorship: “We now have a chance for libel legislation that’s fit for the 21st century. The end of the single publication rule and greater protection for internet service providers will help to put an end to the chilling effect online.”
Dara O Briain @daraobriain: “Congratulations to all involved in #libelreform campaign for getting into the Queen’s speech. Fantastic news after huge effort…”
Ben Goldacre [email protected]: “The Queen’s speech! “Legislation will be introduced to protect freedom of speech and reform the law of defamation.” Air punch! #LibelReform”
“Thanks to everyone who put #libelreform on the political dinner plate in muscular fashion and supported campaign over three years. U rule.”
David Allen Green: “The test of libel reform is simple: will mere legal threats, or the worry of threats, mean that things are not published or broadcast which otherwise would be in the public interest to put into the public domain? The objective of libel reform is to remove this ‘libel chill’. The announcement in the Queen’s Speech is wonderful, but there is work ahead on getting the best defamation legislation we can.”
LDN Science Festival @LondonSciFest: “Great news for #LibelReform campaign — reforms announced “to protect freedom of speech and reform the law of defamation” – Elizabeth II”
Mumsnet [email protected]: “Big ‘woop’ moment innit. Still long way to go, but great news. #libelreform”
Justine Roberts, co-founder and CEO, Mumsnet: “While the draft Defamation Bill was a very good start, it didn’t go far enough to protect freedom of expression, particularly in the online environment. Websites and hosts of user-generated comment risk becoming tactical targets for those who wish to clamp down on criticism or investigation of their activities.”
Richard Dunstan, Social Policy Officer, Citizens Advice: “Whilst inclusion of a Libel Reform Bill is clearly good news, the Bill must provide for a clear and effective public interest defence for third sector organisations, such as Citizens Advice, trying to shine a spotlight on corporate practices that are unfair, detrimental to the public interest, or even unlawful. Just today, we await a landmark ruling in a case that would never have reached a judge had we been silenced – as we very nearly were – by unscrupulous threats of a libel action.”
Philip Campbell PhD, Editor-in-Chief, Nature: “It is essential to the public trust in science that scientific integrity is upheld and that bad behaviour is brought to light. It is therefore imperative that libel legislation be revised to achieve a better balance of interests between those accused of misconduct and those who should be better able to write about them.”
Hardeep Singh, journalist and libel defendant: “The inclusion of the defamation bill in the Queen’s Speech marks a major milestone for The Libel Reform Campaign. It can’t be right that ordinary people risk their livelihoods when getting caught up in costly libel proceedings. The Government has already investigated ways to weed out unmeritorious claims, whereby claimants will have to show serious harm before a case progresses. If passed by Parliament, these types of amendments will not only make our libel laws fairer, but go some way in restoring London’s reputation from being a ‘town called sue.’ “
Dr Peter Wilmshurst who was sued by medical device company NMT Medical: “Patients have suffered because the draconian defamation laws were used to silence doctors with legitimate concerns about medical safety. … It is hypocritical for parliamentarians to expect ordinary citizens to speak out on matters of public interest and safety, when they do not allow ordinary citizens the same protection that MPs reserve for themselves to protect them from misuse of the defamation law.”
Till Sommer, Internet Service Providers Association: “ISPA welcomes the Government’s commitment to libel reform. The current regulatory framework has failed to provide clarity to hosting and Internet service providers and has ultimately has had a chilling effect on freedom of speech online. We hope that Parliament will address the current shortcomings in the upcoming session and we will follow the political process closely to ensure that the reforms strike the best possible compromise between protecting providers, claimants and authors.”
Rowan Davies @rowandavies: “#libelreform campaign has been absolutely fearsome. It’s been a privilege capering around on the edges.”
Julian Huppert MP[email protected]: “Excellent – #libelreform bill announced – now we just need to get it passed! It’s been a lot of work so far … #fb”
Dave Gorman[email protected]: “So #LibelReform was in the Queen’s speech! Fantastic news! Huge congratulations to all those involved in 3years of campaigning.”
Antony Lempert[email protected]: “Great to see #libelreform in #QueensSpeech Medical research must not be a hostage to wealthy vested interests”
Richard Smith[email protected]: “As soon as the #libelreform changes are passed into law, it’ll be time to get our best evidence-based criticism hats on. #tallyho#skeptics”