- Written by Robert Sharp
- June 16, 2015
- Category: Latest News
This year we’ve seen why libel reform simply has to keep going. The Scientology film Going Clear was dropped from Sky Atlantic after lawyers feared that the Church of Scientology would be able to sue – not under the new legislation in England and Wales, but under the unreformed law in Scotland and Northern Ireland. We still have a job to do to ensure that public interest journalism and free debate can take place everywhere. Reform is now firmly on the agenda, but we need your help to make it a reality. The Defamation Act came into force in January 2014, but it only applies to England and Wales.
Northern Ireland and Scotland retain their own laws of defamation, meaning that residents have fewer free speech protections than their fellow citizens elsewhere in the UK. It also means that anyone who publishes across the UK (which, in the age of the internet, applies to almost everybody) is at risk of being sued in Belfast or Edinburgh, even if what they have written is protected by the new law in England and Wales.
The Libel Reform Campaign has now created grassroots advisory councils in both Northern Ireland and Scotland, helping to lead the fight for reform and bring vital local support to the campaign. Through our combined efforts we’ve ensured that libel reform is now within reach: in Northern Ireland, the Ulster Unionist Party, the Alliance Party and the Green Party have adopted libel reform as party policy and we’re within weeks of seeing the publication of a consultation on libel reform that will form the basis of a bill.
In Scotland we have succeeded in persuading the Scottish Law Commission to include libel reform on its Ninth Programme of Reform – in its recent report, the Commission noted the progress being made in Northern Ireland as a reason to review the law in Scotland, and cited the ‘substantial level of support’ for reform.
The Libel Reform Campaign will be working tirelessly in 2015 to keep reform on the political agenda. We’ll be running more public events, surveys and keeping up the pressure on politicians and civil servants to ensure this issue is not forgotten. To do this effectively we need your support.