Lord Lester slams Leveson royal charter
13 Jun 2013
Lord Lester of Herne Hill - (picture: English PEN via Fickr)

Lord Lester of Herne Hill – (picture: English PEN/Fickr)

Lord Lester of Herne Hill, one of the UK’s most celebrated human rights lawyers, has slammed the government’s proposed Royal Charter on press regulation, saying he doubted it would “pass muster” under the Human Rights Act.

Speaking at an event to celebrate the passing of the Defamation Act 2013, Lester, a Liberal Democrat peer, described the Royal Charter as a “steamroller to crack a nut.”

The use of exemplary damages to punish publishers who do not join the scheme or abide by its rulings is unprecedented in the free world, and sets a terrible example,” said Lester. “The scheme is one-sided and unbalanced. It would be unacceptable in regulating the legal and medical professions, and it is unacceptable in regulating the profession of journalism that is already subject to many criminal and civil laws and sanctions.”

Lester spoke of his concern at attempts by Labour peers to attach a “Leveson amendments” to the Defamation Bill, which he believed could have scuppered reform at the last hurdle.

“The Bill was taken hostage by well-meaning parliamentary colleagues, influenced by the well-heeled and powerful Hacked Off Campaign,” he said. “They amended the Bill with amendments that were punitive and unfair and incompatible with the right to free expression protected by the Human Rights Act and the Convention.”

“The Prime Minister was not bluffing when he refused to send the Bill to the Commons unless those amendments were removed.”

Hacked Off campaigners have claimed that the Defamation Act was not at risk from the amendments, which were eventually withdrawn.

Lester has been a key player in the reform of English libel law, drafting a private members’ bill which became the basis for the government’s bill. The Defamation Act 2013 was given royal assent in May, after a three-and-a-half year campaign led Index on Censorship, English PEN and Sense About Science.

Padraig Reidy

4 responses to “Lord Lester slams Leveson royal charter”

  1. Elaine Decoulos says:

    It’s a pity Lord Lester didn’t give evidence to The Leveson Inquiry so that maybe, just maybe, there would have been some coordination between Libel Reform and Leveson’s proposals. That is what has been lacking from the start.

    There is no middle ground between the two. There cannot be lawless free speech. Even the US Supreme Court has said one cannot shout fire in the theatre when there is no fire! So, what does Lord Lester suggest the Prime Minister do about Leveson’s proposals in a country harbouring the world’s nastiest press?

  2. Peter Lloyd says:

    It is worth remembering that aside from the illegal activities of the press which have been admitted to, there is a freedom to have personal privacy and this is widely recognised as a right throughout the media.

    Although not easy or appropriate to set in law it would be good to recognise a right to some form of redress if the press knowingly publishes lies about you or, more generally, the public can see corrections when the press wilfully portrays fiction as truth.

    Neither of these mean the press can’t print what it wants. It just means there is some form of accountability. If we want a decent free press it has to have integrity in order to carry out its much trumpeted and valuable role.

    There are human rights on both sides of this particular argument.

  3. Craig King says:

    Leveson and this Royal Charter have furnished dictators around the world with an excellent excuse for their totalitarian rule and intolerance of a free media. That the UK could adopt measures no different from those of R G Mugabe in effect is discouraging in the extreme.

    What have you done Great Britain, what have you done?

  4. Stephen Moriarty says:

    Thank the Lord! No, really, thank you to Lord Lester for speaking out against the appalling Leveson proposals on the Press. Whatever its excesses (and if that serious they should fall foul of the criminal law in any case), a free press is a sine qua non of a free society. The liberal left is so convinced of its righteousness that it has convinced itself that the awkward (for the liberal left) opinions of ordinary people are the result of tabloid indoctrination, ignoring all the BBC’s efforts in the other direction! No one has a monopoly on the truth and one either believes in democracy because one has faith in human nature, or one doesn’t because one doesn’t. If the latter is the case we might as well all pack it in, mightn’t we?
    Quis custodet ipsos custodes?