The Government published the Defamation Bill 2012 in May. This is now going through Parliament. The Bill addresses some important issues, such as reducing libel tourism and providing protection for academic publication, but the Bill falls short in some crucial areas. There is no worthwhile public interest defence and the Bill offers no restrictions on the ability of corporations to silence critics. Also, instead of bringing the law into the 21st century by protecting website operators, the current draft of the bill reduces their protection from being made liable for the words of others.
Unless these issues are addressed, libel threats and libel actions will still be used to bully newspaper journalists, scientists, bloggers, consumer groups, human rights activists and others.
And if you can, please join the Libel Reform Campaign at the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday 27th June at 10.30 am. Dara Ó Briain, Professor Brian Cox, Dave Gorman and organisations backing libel reform will be speaking at this meeting. There are more details at http://www.libelreform.org/news/528-mass-lobby-for-a-public-interest-defence
Suggested letter to your MP:
Subject: Vital amendments required to the Defamation Bill
I am writing to you about the Defamation Bill 2012 that is currently passing through the House of Commons. The publication of the Bill was welcomed by the Libel Reform Campaign; however, I share their concern that the bill will fail to deliver the real libel reform that was promised in your party’s manifesto at the last election.
The campaign was founded by Index on Censorship, English PEN and Sense About Science in December 2009 to obtain major changes in the English libel laws that would reduce the chill of the laws on public interest discussions. 60,000 individuals, 60 civic society organisations and hundreds of prominent individuals actively support the campaign and all three main political parties made a commitment to reform the libel laws in their 2010 general election manifestos. But promises to reform the law to make it fairer, more accessible are in danger of failing because of two major problems:
1. The current bill does not provide a new or effective “public interest” defence.
2. The current bill does not restrict corporations and other “non-natural persons” from using libel actions or the threat of a libel action to deter legitimate debate and criticism.
These two issues are incredibly important and were central to the high profile and unfair libel cases that made libel reform a national issue. Unless these issues are tackled, then there will be further scandalous libel cases, critics will be silenced and our country’s poor reputation for free speech will continue.
Moreover, amendments are also required to:
1. Establish a proper early hurdle to deter trivial and vexatious claims.
2. Ensure that website operators have at least as much protection from liability for libel for the words of others as they have at the moment, while establishing that those who post on the internet must be held accountable for their words.
This is a once in a generation opportunity to create a fair defamation law. The current law does little to help ordinary people get redress for defamation and does this at the price of chilling free speech. I ask you to back amendments to the Bill that will address the issues of public interest and corporations and to write to Justice Ministers Lord McNally and Jonathan Djanogly to urge them to accept necessary amendments.
You might also like to attend a meeting in Committee Room 11 at 10:30 on June 27th, where there will be speeches about the Defamation Bill by Justice Minister Lord McNally, leading figures from the Libel Reform Campaign and supporters, such as Dara O Briain, Professor Brian Cox and Dave Gorman.