England & Wales
Our campaign has been successful in England and Wales. You can read more about the Defamation Act 2013 and what the law means to you.
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House of Lords amendments to the Defamation Bill will be discussed in the House of Commons on Tuesday 16th April. I and the 60,000 supporters of the Libel Reform Campaign believe this is a once in a generation opportunity for legislation that protects both reputation and freedom of expression. We support a clearer, stronger public interest defence (amendment tabled by Sir Peter Bottomley MP with support from Paul Farrelly MP) and strongly oppose any motion to reject Lords amendment 2 restricting companies from suing individuals for libel.
Public Interest Defence
House of Lords amendments 3-7 and amendment tabled by Sir Peter Bottomley MP House of Lords amendments 3 – 7 will introduce a new public interest defence. The new defence will be a significant improvement on the current complex and unpredictable law. I urge you to accept Lords amendments 3 – 7. But, the new public interest defence’s test of whether a defendant “reasonably believed” that publishing the material complained of was in the public interest is likely to lead to prolonged and costly argument about a defendant’s state of mind. It leaves the door open for judges to revert to the current law and import the checklist of factors that make the current common law public interest defence unusable for most defendants. The amendment tabled by Sir Peter Bottomley changes the defence to ask the defendant to show that he “reasonably decided.” This small change of wording will add clarity and protection against protracted litigation. It will give the community groups, consumer watchdogs, scientists and authors who have been most affected by the laws more confidence about where they stand and therefore reduce the chilling effect of the current complex and expensive law. Proceedings, where they happen, will be quicker and cheaper. Please support the amendment tabled by Sir Peter Bottomley MP
House of Lords amendment 2 and amendment tabled by Sir Edward Garnier QC House of Lords amendment 2 would add a new clause to the Defamation Bill asking companies and other non-natural persons to show that they have suffered financial harm before they can bring a libel case against an individual. It is urgently needed to stop powerful vested interests using or threatening to use the libel laws to bully and chill critics rather than to pursue legitimate claims. It does not prevent corporations from gaining redress if they have suffered harm from a defamatory statement, it asks them to prove they have been harmed, or are likely to be harmed, before they can use the libel laws for redress. This new clause would also prevent private companies performing public functions from suing for libel which would bring them in line with restrictions already placed on public bodies. I urge you to accept Lords amendment 2. Edward Garnier’s amendment would prevent this clause from becoming part of the Defamation Bill. There is no justification for this. Rejecting this new clause will not help genuine corporate claimants, it will only help those who abuse the law by making spurious threats of damages and legal costs to silence critics, as happened to me, the cardiologist Peter Wilmshurst and countless others. Preventing this new clause will not help small companies, which easily show damage where it occurs and whose Directors can sue in person. I urge you not to support any motion which would prevent this new clause from becoming part of the Defamation Bill. Please get in touch with me or the Libel Reform Campaign to discuss any of this. Best wishes Simon Singh Defendant in BCA v Singh
Friday 12th April 2013
Four days before the Defamation Bill has its final and decisive debate in the House of Commons we find ourselves writing to you about disgraceful behaviour from politicians that will put everything we’ve worked for at risk.
Conservative MP and libel barrister Sir Edward Garnier is trying to remove the part of the Bill that would limit companies’ ability to use libel threats to intimidate critics into silence and was voted for overwhelmingly in the House of Lords. His attempt to remove this will be voted on during debate on the Bill on Tuesday 16thApril.
How is it right that companies claim libel damage, take someone's house to pay it, but never have to show the damage actually occurred? Please write to your MP and tell them not to support Garnier’s amendment.
We’ve heard that the Conservatives might back Garnier on this, and that the Lib Dems will join their Conservative colleagues even though restricting corporations from suing individuals unless they can prove harm is Lib Dem party policy! Please write to Nick Clegg and David Cameron and urge them to tell their parties not to support Garnier and to make sure the clause on companies becomes part of the Defamation Bill.
Read our briefing for MPs on why this along with a clear strong public interest defence would do the most to lessen the damage the laws are doing to free and open debate. A Bill without either reform would be a wasted opportunity. Please point your MP towards our briefing at this link when you write to them.
We’ve seen the best of democracy in action – we have forced libel reform onto the political agenda and when politicians have listened to us all we’ve seen the best improvements to the Defamation Bill. But behind closed door dealing and cowardly behaviour threatens everything we’ve worked for. Please tell your MP not to support Garnier's amendment, to support the amendment from Sir Peter Bottomley that would make the public interest defence clearer and stronger, and tell David Cameron and Nick Clegg that the Government must do this too.
How can it be right that a company can claim libel damage – pursue it through expensive court proceedings and even take someone’s house to pay for it - and yet not be required to show that it actually happened?
A central plank of the campaign to reform libel law in England and Wales is under threat, as Conservative MP and former libel lawyer Sir Edward Garnier will try to remove a clause that would compel companies to show financial damage before they can sue for libel in a Commons debate on Tuesday 16th April.
The use of libel laws by companies to chill legitimate criticism and bully whistleblowers into silence is well documented. Action to stop this situation was recommended by two parliamentary committees and the House of Lords introduced a clause into the Defamation Bill that would go some way to stopping the bullying. This is now under threat.
The Libel Reform Campaign believes that the clause on corporations is already moderate: it does NOT prevent companies from suing for defamation but adds a hurdle so they must prove financial loss. It would also prevent private companies performing public functions from suing for libel, such as those running the transportation of prisoners, bringing them into line with restrictions already placed on public bodies.
Although the Government has acknowledged that companies use the libel laws to ‘chill’ criticism, it has dragged its heels on implementing any recommendations. The Libel Reform Campaign is deeply concerned that the coalition Government will support Sir Edward Garnier’s amendment, or table their own, and overturn an urgent and much-needed reform. If the Liberal Democrats vote to remove the clause they would be contradicting their election manifesto commitment to restrict corporations from suing in libel unless they can prove harm. There is significant cross-party support for restrictions on corporations suing individuals for libel, with the Labour party backing the restriction, alongside Conservative Peer Lord Mawhinney, Conservative MPs David Davis and Peter Bottomley and a group of cross-bencher Peers.
Tracey Brown, Director of Sense About Science, said: "If there is genuine damage, why shouldn’t a company show that? If they can come up with a precise calculation of an amount that is enough to ruin someone and take their house, why can’t they say how they worked it out? This is a modest clause and yet it will effectively reduce bullying behaviour. Every parliamentary committee to look at this has recommended the Government to fix the problem."
Jo Glanville, Director of English PEN, said: "Companies do not have feelings, yet wealthy corporations routinely use the libel laws to silence any criticism, however slight. It is reasonable to ask companies to show financial loss before they sue. It is bizarre that the Government may not countenance even this modest restraint on corporations."
Kirsty Hughes, Chief Executive of Index on Censorship, said: "At present we have an absurd situation where local councils and government departments cannot sue citizens, yet the companies who win outsourcing contracts are free to censor people who criticise their performance. The Defamation Bill has a sensible clause to correct this anomaly in the law. Why are Conservative MPs seeking to maintain the inequitable status quo?"
Simon Singh, science writer and defendant in BCA vs Singh, said: "The corporations clause is vital, and would have made all the difference in my case. The British Chiropractic Association would not have been able to show significant financial loss, so the case would have been thrown out. We have been campaigning for fair and reasonable libel reform for four years, and now Sir Edward Garnier is torpedoing some the best aspects of the Defamation Bill. I hope that the Government will not back his amendment or any similar amendments."
Whenever Parliamentary committees have examined the issue of libel, they have always recommended that corporations face some restrictions in their use of libel laws. In 2011, the pre-legislative scrutiny committee chaired by the former Conservative Party Chairman, Lord Mawhinney, said:
... we favour the approach which limits libel claims to situations where the corporation can prove the likelihood of "substantial financial loss".
Lord Mawhinney has also said that large companies using the libel laws to protect their brands is a form of “bullying”.
The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, Chaired by Conservative MP John Whittingdale, also recommended changes to the law. Reporting in 2010, the committee cited the mismatch in resources between wealthy corporations and impecunious defendants’ and that a corporation to prove actual damage to its business before an action could be brought.’
The Prime Minister David Cameron announced 18th March 2013 that “The Defamation Bill will proceed. Its clauses relating to the Leveson report will be reversed by all three parties voting together, so it can now go through the House.”
The Defamation Bill is coming back to the House of Commons on Tuesday 16th April. This return is undoubtedly down to all your letters to MPs and the Prime Minister which have made it clear why the Defamation Bill matters. viagra online cheap Thank you so much for taking up the cause so actively.
On Tuesday 16th MPs will debate the amendments the House of Lords made to the Defamation Bill and decide whether to accept the changes or not.
The Bill contains important and welcome changes to the stifling and ruinously expensive libel laws. But it still has some unnecessary complexity that could be abused by litigants wishing to censor legitimate free speech. We are asking MPs to make these small changes to the Bill:
Public Interest Defence
This clause is unclear and therefore brings a risk of protracted and expensive litigation. A small change from “the defendant reasonably believed” to “the defendant could reasonably have decided” to publish would reduce this risk and deliver the clear, simple law the Government has promised.
Operators of Websites
The clause needs to be amended so that it is not in conflict with existing E-Commerce regulations.
We support the new clause the Lords added on non-natural persons which introduces a higher hurdle for corporations that wish to sue for defamation because currently corporations can use the inequality of arms between them and individuals to bully critics into silence.
You can read more detail in the Libel Reform Campaign briefing that we sent to MPs.
The Bill is reaching its final stage in parliament. After MPs consider Lords amendments the Bill will ‘ping pong’ between bothe the Houses until Lords and MPs agree on all the details.
There has been some important news today. An agreement has been struck to remove the ‘Leveson’ amendment to the Defamation Bill. This is welcome news. All your letters to MPs and the Prime Minister have made clear why the Defamation Bill matters, and why it must not be caught up in the debate about press regulation. Thank you so much for taking up the cause so actively.
We are still waiting for confirmation that the Defamation Bill will be back before Parliament in the next couple of weeks, so if you haven’t written to your MP or the Prime Minister already, could we urge you to do that now?. We also have much to do to make sure that all MPs (and especially those who joined Parliament in 2010) know about the injustices that gave rise to the Bill. We are meeting with as many as we can to talk about ending libel tourism, the hurdle of "serious harm" to prevent vexatious cases, restrictions on corporations suing individuals and a new public interest defence.
As soon as we have further information about a timetable for the Defamation Bill returning to the House of Commons we will let you know.
Síle and Mike