Scottish Law Commission reports on defamation law and proposes a draft reform bill
|16th December 2017
The Scottish Law Commission has published its Report on Defamation , which includes a draft defamation reform bill.
The SLC's draft bill includes:
Stephanie Mathisen from the Libel Reform Campaign, and policy manager at Sense about Science , said:
- a defence of publication on a matter of public interest
- a serious harm test, meaning that claimants would be required to prove serious harm before a claim can proceed
- a single publication rule, so that the time limit for bringing a
defamation claim applies from the first publication of a statement and is not reset every time that statement is shared, for example by re-tweeting
- ·a reduction of the time limit for bringing a claim from three years to one year
The Libel Reform Campaign welcomes the Scottish Law Commission's Report on Defamation. In particular, we are pleased to
see its recognition of the importance of protecting publication on matters of public interest and the requirement for claimants to prove that serious harm has been caused before a libel claim can proceed. We are delighted the SLC has published a draft
bill, opening the way for the Scottish parliament to address Scotland's outdated libel laws. We know MSPs are anxious to bring the law into the 21st century and hope they will move quickly to debate and pass a bill early in the new year.
The draft bill isn't perfect, but it's a good start. With a draft bill to kick start proceedings, there's no excuse for the Scottish parliament not to debate the issue of defamation reform and finally bring Scotland's libel laws up to date.
||22nd November 2013 |
Anything your commenters say can be held against you, unless...
See article from theregister.co.uk
UK's New Defamation Law May Accelerate The Death Of Anonymous User-Generated Content Internationally. Forbes points out that UK's new libel law has some impossibly nasty clauses for webmasters
article from forbes.com
House of Lords passes watered down bill that still includes many welcome reforms to UK libel law
||24th April 2013 |
See article from
Laws that led to London being dubbed the libel capital of the world will be reformed after peers in the Lords voted to pass the defamation bill, ending a three-year campaign led by Liberal Democrat peers Lord McNally and Lord Lester.
reform campaigners said they were delighted overall that defamation reform was finally passing into law, although they were disappointed by the failure of a bid to bar private companies contracted to run schools, prisons or healthcare from suing
ordinary citizens who criticised the work they do for the taxpayer. In the end it was the Lib Dems and Tories that did the dirty and killed some of the valuable reforms.
However, the bill is a landmark piece of legislation and should provide more
protection for individuals and organisations, including newspapers and broadcasters, which criticise big companies.
The new law will also stop cases being taken in London against journalists, academics or individuals who live outside the country,
denting the libel tourism industry, but not ending it altogether, as foreigners will still be able to lodge claims in the high court.
The bill will now return to the Commons on Wednesday for formal approval with no possibility of fresh amendments.
Kirsty Hughes, chief executive of Index on Censorship said she was delighted that corporations will now have to prove financial loss before they sue for libel but added it was a pity the government voted against Labour's amendment to
stop public money being used to stop citizen critics .
Comment: Victory for free speech as libel bill passes
25th April 2013. See
article from indexoncensorship.org
Today, 24 April, saw history made. The UK parliament has passed a new Defamation Bill, which will now go on to Royal Assent. A major victory against censorship in Britain and beyond has been won, with England's notorious libel laws changed in favour of
The new law protects free speech. There is a hurdle to stop vexatious cases. We now have a bar on libel tourism so non-EU claimants will now need to prove that harm has been done here. For the first time there will be a statutory
public interest defence that will ask defendants to prove they have acted reasonably (a better test than the more burdensome Reynold's test of responsible publication). There is also a hurdle to stop corporations from suing unless they can prove
...Read the full article
How can it be right that companies delivering public services can't be criticised by citizens?
||18th April 2013 |
See article from libelreform.org
At a debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday 16 April 2013 the Government rejected attempts to reform the libel laws to limit companies' ability to use sue individuals. The reform would have asked companies to show they had been harmed before they
would be allowed to take it case. It would also have put the Derbyshire principle, which prevents public bodies from suing individuals for libel into law, and would have extended this principle to private companies performing public functions.
Labour pushed the Government on this clause and forced a vote which the Government won 298 to 230.
But Minister for Justice Helen Grant MP said the Government would "actively consider" amendments to the Defamation Bill that would require
corporations to show financial loss before they can sue for libel, following pressure from Shadow Minister for Justice Sadiq Khan MP. The Defamation Bill will be debated in the House of Lords on Tuesday 23 April. Tracey Brown, Sense About Science:
Kirsty Hughes, Chief Executive, Index on Censorship:
We are pleased that so many MPs recognise the need for corporations to show actual financial harm and grateful to the MPs who worked for this. While it is deeply disappointing that the corporations' clause has been
removed, their efforts have at least led the Government to concede that this should be revisited in the Lords. It cannot be right that the court is not asked to consider whether companies have faced loss, or are likely to, before a case can go ahead. It
cannot be right that citizens can't criticise delivery of public services whether by private companies or by the Government.
Jo Glanville, Director, English PEN :
It is a very
unwelcome blot on an important bill that the Government voted to allow corporations to continue to pressurise and sue in ways that chill free speech
defendant in British Chiropractic Association v Singh:
Government needs to do more than "actively consider" amendments. Ministers in the House of Lords should now table an early amendment, requiring corporations to show financial loss before they sue. We're depending on the Lords now to
deliver the reform that all the parties signed up to. It's essential that companies are no longer allowed to exploit libel law to bully whistleblowers into silence. This has always been a key demand for the campaign.
The majority of the cases that galvanized public support for libel reform involved corporations, so the final Defamation Bill must include a clause that limits the
powers for corporations to bully their critics into silence. The proposal on the table is reasonable, modest and fair. Ignoring this proposal on corporations would leave the door open to further abuses of libel law by those who want to block the public's
access to information concerning everything from consumer issues to medical treatments.
||12th April 2013 |
Tory libel lawyer Edward Garnier tries to stitch up laws to make libel law fairer
article from dailymail.co.uk
||6th March 2013 |
Years of effort set to be lost over libel reform as David Puttnam's selfish hijack of the bill makes it unacceptable to progress further
article from guardian.co.uk
David Puttnam's obsession with press censorship puts libel reform bill in jeopardy
article from guardian.co.uk
||10th October 2012 |
As the UK government's Defamation Bill goes to the House of Lords for its second reading debate, Michael Harris explains why it's vital that the government acts to protect free speech
article from indexoncensorship.org
||15th July 2012 |
Nature journal wins three-year case where Egyptian academic El Naschie claimed defamation after his articles were described as low quality and lacking peer review.
article from pressgazette.co.uk
Lawyer doesn't quite see the government spin that the libel reform bill will somehow end internet trolling
|13th June 2012
See article from
dailymail.co.uk by Donal Blaney
See also Websites to be forced to identify trolls
under new measures from bbc.com
The spin doctors at 10 Downing Street have done well today. The media has bought - hook, line and sinker - the spin that the Defamation Bill will mean an end to the scourge of internet trolls.
The day after Louise Mensch's twisted
cyber stalker escaped jail and in the week Nicola Brookes obtained a court order compelling Facebook to reveal the IP addresses of those who made her life a misery online, the government's spin doctors have revealed to a breathless media that weirdos who
cower behind anonymity online will no longer be able to do so. All hail the Lord Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke!
All wonderful news - except that that is not what the Defamation Bill will provide for.
all, the Defamation Bill is - as the name suggests - only about defamatory statements. It will not cover comments that are offensive, unpleasant or constitute harassment, breach of confidence or an invasion of privacy - and the bulk of trolls' comments
are in those categories as opposed to being defamatory as such.
Secondly, the Defamation Bill creates a higher hurdle for those who want to bring a claim in defamation in any event. Under the proposed new law (which receives its
second reading in the House of Commons today - hence the media spin), a statement will not be defamatory unless its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant . What constitutes seriousness is not
defined but the Bill is designed to ensure that there are fewer defamation claims in the future, not more.
Thirdly, the spin doctors have assured the media that the new law will mean victims will no longer need to go through
costly legal battles to unmask their tormentors. If only that were true. It would still be a very brave (i.e. foolish) website operator who simply reveals the name or IP address of the author of a particular post without a court order compelling him to
...Read the full article
June 2012 |
The Libel Reform Group set out their concerns about the government bill ahead of the 2nd Reading Commons debate on 12th June.
report [pdf] from senseaboutscience.org
|10th May |
The Queen's Speech heralds a snooping law that the KGB would be proud of
You know that when the government blathers on about safeguards and scrutiny, they only mention this because there won't be any.
article from bigbrotherwatch.org.uk
See also 'Snooper's charter' removed from crime bill in last-minute coalition talks from
America Too: The FBI Wants Mandatory
"Backdoors" to Online Communications Services from decryptedtech.com
My Government intends to bring forward measures to maintain the ability of the law enforcement and intelligence agencies to access vital communications data under strict safeguards to protect the public, subject to scrutiny of draft clauses.
there we have it -- the Communication Capabilities Development Programme will have it's day in Parliament. We don't know what the draft clauses will be or when we will see them, but the Government remains intent on pursuing legislation in the coming
session of Parliament.
The Home Office have been very good at saying what the problem is, but seem intent on keeping the technical details of what they are proposing secret. Is it any wonder that the public are scared by a proposal for online
surveillance not seen in any other Western democracy.
Update: Promises Promises
The Snoopers' Charter : the Communications Data Bill is about to be published by the government.
When the coalition was elected, they promised that:
We will end the storage of internet and email
records without good reason (1)
Nick Clegg added:
We won't hold your internet and email records when there is just no reason to do so. (2)
Now, the government is saying that
companies like Facebook and Google must keep your email and messaging records for 12 months, whether or not you are under suspicion: and that the records (not the content) must be handed over on the say-so of a police officer.
The government are
asking for powers to intercept and collect information about who you talk to online by snooping on your Internet traffic, in case companies based outside the UK don't agree to hand over your information.
That makes us all a suspect. Instead of
being under surveillance when there is evidence of wrongdoing, you will be under suspicion by default.
|10th May |
The Queen's Speech heralds a law to protect freedom of speech and reform the law of defamation
See article from libelreform.org
See The Jury's
Already Out on the New Bill from spiked-online.com by Luke Samuel
As announced in the Queen's Speech, 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 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 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.
- provisions for online hosts and intermediaries, who are not authors nor traditional publishers.
...Read comments from supporters
Update: Details of Defamation Bill
20th May 2012. See article from
The Bill contains a number of measures of interest to ISPs, including a single publication rule and new defences for hosting providers and
operators of websites with user-generated content.
The single publication rule
Currently, a claim for defamation can be brought up to one year after publication. This limitation is measured from the last time the allegedly defamatory
article was published. However, viewing an article online essentially involves the host transmitting a copy of that article over the Internet, which counts in legal terms as republishing the article. This means that there is, in effect, no time limit for
making a defamation claim against the publisher of an online article, since the law considers the article to be republished every time it is viewed.
The Defamation Bill solves this problem by introducing a single publication rule. If the Bill
becomes law, the limitation period will be measured from the first time an article is published, rather than the last, as long as the manner of a subsequent publication is not materially different from the manner of the first publication .
This should go some way towards placing online content on an equal footing with offline content.
New defences for website operators
Under current defamation law, website operators and hosting providers risk being found liable for
defamation if they refuse to take down content that a court later finds to be defamatory. A blogger could, for example, be held liable for failing to remove a defamatory comment posted by one of her readers, while the ISP that hosts the blog could in
turn be liable for failing to remove defamatory statements posted by the blogger.
The new Defamation Bill provides a weak looking defence in cases where the defamatory contents was posted by someone other than the website operator or host:
5 Operators of websites
It is a defence for the operator to show that it was not the operator who posted the statement on the website. The defence is defeated if the claimant shows
- it was not possible for the claimant to identify the person who posted the statement, the claimant gave the operator a notice of complaint in relation to the statement, and the operator failed to respond to the notice of
complaint in accordance with any provision contained in regulations.
This seems hardly worth having as websites are generally are not in a position to meaningfully identify posters, and so the defence simply will not apply in the vast majority of cases.
|4th May |
Index on censorship hopeful about
including a bill for libel reform in the Queen's Speech. By Kirsty Hughes
See article from indexoncensorship.org
|14th March |
Government libel reform diluted according to free
2nd March 2012. See article from libelreform.org
Government’s Response to the Report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Defamation
Bill [pdf] from parliament.uk
The Libel Reform Campaign welcomes the Government's commitment to a Defamation Bill but current proposals do not yet address the extensive problems of libel bullying and the chill on public debate
The Ministry of Justice has published a statement
in response to the report of the Joint Scrutiny Committee on the Draft Defamation Bill last year. Its commitment to a Bill is welcome recognition of the serious problems faced by NGOs, scientists, bloggers and authors -- problems set out in wide-ranging
evidence by the Libel Reform Campaign and by hundreds of individuals and organisations.
The Government has said it will make changes to introduce a single publication rule and reduce libel tourism and has proposed many beneficial and well-grounded
changes to procedure and existing defences.
However, the Government's initial response falls short of what is needed in some important areas:
- The current libel laws chill speech on matters of public interest and on expressions of opinion on matters in the public realm. We need a new effective statutory public interest defence. Instead, the Government is only proposing minor changes to an
already complex, unwieldy and expensive defence, called Reynolds Privilege .
- Libel laws are used by corporations and associations to squash any criticism and manage their brand. The laws need rebalancing to protect the ordinary individual
or responsible publisher, by restricting the ability of such non-natural persons to sue for libel or threaten to do so.
- The law allows trivial and vexatious claims. There should be easier strike out of trivial or inappropriate
claims at an early stage.
Jonathan Heawood, Director, English PEN:
We have heard overwhelming evidence from scientists, bloggers, investigative journalists and authors that libel law urgently needs to be reformed. Our view is that the
Government's initial response falls short of what's required for a bill that addresses their concerns. It's hard to understand this diluted response to the public and parliamentary calls for meaningful libel reform.
Chief Executive, Index on Censorship:
We are disappointed to learn that the Government does not intend to address corporations' use of libel laws to silence criticism in the defamation bill. There are numerous recent
instances of corporate bodies and other organisations intimidating individuals who submit their products and practices to scrutiny. We urge the Government to take the opportunity to introduce measures that would constitute a fairer remedy.
Dr Evan Harris, policy advisor to the Libel Reform Campaign:
We need reform that not only provides clear and effective defences to frivolous and chilling libel actions but also sufficiently high hurdles
before people are dragged into expensive court actions so that vexatious or trivial libel suits are deterred.
Update: Scientific Journals to be Exempted from Libel Claims
14th March 2012. See
article from independent.co.uk
Scientists and academics could be given greater protection from libel claims under changes being considered by Ken Clarke, the Justice Secretary. He told MPs that articles in peer-reviewed journals could be protected as a result of the draft
Julian Huppert, a Liberal Democrat who sat on the parliamentary joint committee which examined the Bill, raised the issue with Clarke in the Commons. He said the committee recommended that qualified privilege should be extended to
peer-reviewed academic articles in journals.
Huppert asked Clarke:
Do you agree that it is in the public interest for scientists and other academics to be able to publish bona fide research results without fear
and that, unless the publication was maliciously false, they should be protected from defamation actions?
The Justice Secretary replied:
We are proposing that peer-reviewed research should be
protected and we are now obviously considering the draft of the final Bill in the light of the joint committee's report.
|11th March |
Libel tourism case as former New Zealand Cricketer sues in the UK over a dispute with an Indian tweeter primarily affecting his reputation in India
On the other hand, libel tourism must be good for Britain's balance of payments. Legal costs don't come cheap.
article from telegraph.co.uk
Ex-New Zealand cricketer Chris Cairns, who is suing a former Indian Premier League boss over a Twitter posting, has his case heard by the UK High Court in the latest example of libel tourism.
Chris Cairns is taking legal action over a
January 2010 tweet by Lalit Modi alleging that he was involved in match fixing.
The action is taking place in London despite claims by Modi's lawyers that there were only 35 readers of the tweet in England and Wales. Evidence for Cairns put the
figure at around 100.
Padraig Reidy of Index on Censorshop said:
The Cairns case is one of the most clear-cut cases of libel tourism we have seen.
While cricket is an international game,
the alleged libel took place in India, concerned conduct in India, and primarily affects Cairns's reputation in India.
Plans to prevent libel tourism were put forward by the Government last year. The proposed new rules would block
celebrities and businessman from bringing such actions in this country unless it could be proved that publication caused them substantial harm in England and Wales.
|19th January |
Why libel tourists love London
See article from guardian.co.uk
|21st October |
Parliamentary committee finds that libel reforms don't go far enough
Reforms to England's libel laws will not do enough to protect free speech. A powerful parliamentary committee believes further steps are needed to prevent big corporations using their financial muscle to gag opponents by threatening legal action.
It also wants extra measures to protect scientists and academics who are publishing legitimate research, and to prevent trivial claims ever reaching court.
The committee has been scrutinising the Coalition's proposals to end the international embarrassment
that sees rich and powerful foreigners flocking to our courts to silence critics.
The report from the joint committee on the draft Defamation Bill says many of the Government's proposals, particularly a move to end trial by jury except in the
most serious cases, are worthwhile . But it says the plans are modest and do not address the key problem in defamation law, the unacceptably high costs associated with defending cases.
that websites be held responsible for anonymous comments
See article from bbc.co.uk
Websites should have protection from defamation cases if they act quickly to remove anonymous postings which prompt a complaint, a report says. A joint parliamentary committee tasked with examining libel reform says it wants a cultural shift so that posts under pseudonyms are not considered
true, reliable or trustworthy , But it says websites which identify authors and publish complaints alongside comments should get legal protection.
The committee proposes a new notice and takedown procedure for defamatory online
comments - aimed at providing a quick remedy for those who are defamed and to give websites which use the procedure more legal protection.
It recommends that where complaints are made about comments from identified authors - the website should
promptly publish a notice of the complaint alongside it. The complainant can then apply to a court for a takedown order - which if granted, should result in the comment being removed, if the website is to avoid the risk of a defamation claim.
But where potentially defamatory comments are anonymous, the website should immediately remove them on receipt of a complaint, unless the author agrees to identify themselves, the report says. The author of the comment can then be sued for defamation
but if a website refuses to take down an anonymous remark it should be treated as its publisher and face the risk of libel proceedings .
The report also says a website could apply to a court for a leave-up order, if it (is rich
enough and) considers the anonymous comment to be on a matter of significant public interest.
But Mumsnet, a parenting website, says many of its members rely on the ability to ask questions or post comments anonymously. Many of the women
posting messages do so under a user name , rather than their real name - and the site is worried the proposal will mean more people demanding messages be taken down.
Its co-founder, Justine Roberts, said while it was right to stop people
from assassinating the character of others from behind the cloak of anonymity the report did not recognise how useful anonymous postings were in allowing people to speak honestly about difficult real-life situations . The recommendations
could have a chilling effect on sites like Mumsnet where many thousands of people use anonymity to confidentially seek and give advice about sensitive real-life situations.
Under the current law, websites are liable for defamatory statements
made by their users. If they fail to take down a post when they receive a complaint, they risk being treated as the primary publisher of the statement.
So how is a website to know if users correctly identify themselves anyway?
|18th October |
A crucial week for the cause of free expression
article from spectator.co.uk
by John Kampfner
For those who care about free expression in the UK, and particularly the reform of our invidious libel laws, this is a crucial week. Today and tomorrow, the UK Supreme Court hears the Times's attempt to overturn an appeal court ruling in a libel case
brought against it by Metropolitan Police officer Gary Flood.
...Read the full article
|17th June |
Government considers the Press Complaints Commission for a first stage arbitration step before libel cases can go to court
See article from
Ken Clarke's Justice Department is considering sending rich and famous claimants to the Press Complaints Commission for arbitration before they are allowed to take their case to court.
Ministers say the system would be cheaper and quicker, and
hope it could deter foreigners from flocking to our courts in so-called libel tourism .
At a meeting of a Parliamentary Committee investigating changes to defamation laws, Justice Minister Lord McNally told MPs that he was tempted to
make complainants go to the PCC first: I do think that a credible Press Complaints Commission -- one that had general respect and could deliver non-legal fast justice in areas where people complained of press abuse -- is preferable to the law. If
complainants want a rapid correction then mediation does offer a cheap and speedy way of addressing that.
Clarke said that the PCC would have to beef itself up to be able to take on the role, and would have to do more to ensure it had the
confidence of the public.
|8th June |
Approaching deadline for comments on the proposed bill to reform British libel law
The Government's draft bill is now being scrutinised by a parliamentary committee. The committee wants to hear opinions by their deadline of 10th June.
Whilst we are pleased we have a draft of the first wholesale bill since 1843, it doesn't
yet deliver the substantial changes we need. There are four vital areas where the draft bill falls short:
- Serious and substantial harm test.
The bill has a proposal that there should be a test of harm before a case can go to court. We think this is a great idea, but the test needs strengthening to make sure that anyone threatened with libel will
have the confidence to stand up to bullying and trivial claims.
- The public interest defence.
The draft does little to address the uncertainties that currently surround using a public interest defence, and the demands it makes
to demonstrate responsibility are impractical for most writers, scientists and NGOs. We believe this could be easily addressed for writing that is on public interest matters by shifting the burden of proof to the claimant to prove the defendant
acted recklessly or with malice.
- The nature of digital publication. The draft does not tackle the problem that online intermediaries, such as web-hosts, which are neither authors nor traditional publishers, are forced to censor
material for fear of liability. Currently a threat to intermediaries often results in blogs or scientific papers being taken down from websites, because the intermediary has no way of knowing the facts of the matter. We want to see a system that requires
claimants to contact the primary author first, before intermediaries can be asked to take material down.
- The prevention of corporations from suing for libel.
Companies currently use the threat of a libel action to manage their brand and
to close down criticisms of their products and behaviour. This is legal bullying and there are other ways companies can respond to criticism they think is unfair.
You can submit your thoughts here at call for evidence . The committee has set out a
list of questions, and you can respond to some or all of those, or write your submission in your own way.
You can see the Libel Reform Campaign's submission at libelreform.org
|17th March |
Government publish draft Defamation Bill and consultation details
2011. Based on article from libelreform.org
See draft bill and consultation paper [pdf] from
The Government has now published its promised draft Defamation Bill.
We have had an initial look and weighed it up against the blueprint for reform we launched last week. We welcome where the draft bill contains some of the reforms we set out,
- A more effective and clearer defence of truth (justification)
- A clearer and wider defence of honest opinion (fair comment)
- The extension of statutory qualified privilege to benefit NGOs and scientific conferences
- A single
publication rule with a one year cut off
But it comes up short in a few important places:
- The suggested public interest defence needs more work to properly protect citizen critics
- There is no commitment to counter the censorship of online discussions by web-hosts and internet service providers who are liable for content they
- There is no commitment to restrict corporations' ability to sue in libel
These measures are going to be open for consultation over the next few months.
Offsite: We will end the libel farce
article from guardian.co.uk by Nick Clegg
Shameful libel laws kill debate and smother scientific inquiry. Our coalition bill will let the press be free
We live in an information age, with knowledge flowing in unprecedented ways. Recent weeks have been dramatic proof of that. Twitter
helped oust Hosni Mubarak. Thanks to global, 24-hour news reporting, Muammar Gaddafi's actions cannot be hidden. Global citizens watch in real time as events unfold in Japan.
In such an age ideas are everything and openness reigns supreme. Power
rests, increasingly, on winning the argument, and censorship has no place.
...Read the full article
Update: American Cheers
See article from
The arrival of the draft defamation bill was cheered in the US, where the long reach of libel tourism had prompted domestic bills
shielding Americans from judgments that chill free speech from abroad. President Obama just last August signed the SPEECH Act into law. It wasn't aimed explicitly at the UK; rather, it protects Americans from the enforcement of all libel judgments ruled
against them in countries that don't afford the same free speech protection as the US First Amendment.
But it was not a secret that the legislation was triggered by my fight against the imposition of English libel laws, said Rachel
Ehrenfeld, an American academic whose run-in with a wealthy Saudi businessman in British court became the galvanizing case for libel tourism in the US: I thought that since the United States had fought and won its independence from England in 1776,
Ehrenfeld said, there was no reason for Americans to abide by repressive English law.
|15th March |
Government set to publish a draft Defamation Bill
See article from
no longer welcome in my court!
Major changes to Britain's antiquated defamation laws will be outlined by ministers with the publication of a bill to provide greater protection for free speech and an end to libel tourism .
The draft Defamation Bill will propose a new
defence of honest opinion , which will protect academics from being sued by companies and special-interest groups for damaging their reputations. There is currently a defence of fair comment , but it has to be based on stated and true facts
and rarely succeeds.
There will also be new rules to stop celebrities and businessmen from bringing libel cases in Britain unless they can prove that the publication caused them substantial harm in the country. Foreign litigants will have
to sue in the country where most of the damage to their reputations was done, rather than using the English courts on the basis that the publication was available in Britain.
Under the new rules, it will be up to a judge to decide whether substantial harm
has been caused to reputation in this country. It is expected that if the main damage was done outside this country, UK courts will not accept jurisdiction.
|2nd December |
'Fair Comment' law examined in the UK Supreme Court
article from supremecourt.gov.uk
This appeal required the Supreme Court to consider the defence of fair comment in defamation proceedings, in particular the extent to which the factual background giving rise to the comment had to be referred to with the comment itself and be accurately
The respondents are members of a musical group known as The Gillettes or Saturday Night at the Movies.
The appellants provide entertainment booking services.
The Gillettes appointed the booking agency to promote their acts,
entering into a contract which included a re-engagement clause, under which any further bookings at the same venue in the following 12 months had to be made through the appellants.
The booking agency arranged a booking for the Gillettes at Bibis
restaurant in Leeds. The Gillettes agreed to perform again at Bibis three weeks later without reference to the agency.
The agency emailed the band to complain of the breach of the re-engagement clause. A band member replied, contending that the
contract was mearly (sic) a formality and holds no water in legal terms and that the other Gillettes were not bound by the re-engagement clause as they had not signed the contract.
The booking agency thereafter posted a notice on their
website announcing that they were no longer representing the Gillettes as they were not professional enough to feature in our portfolio and have not been able to abide by the terms of their contract and that following a breach of contract Craig
Joseph who runs The Gillettes and Saturday Night at the Movies has advised 1311 Events that the terms and conditions of "contracts hold no water in legal terms". For this reason it may follow that the artists obligations for your booking may also not
The Gillettes issued proceedings for libel, alleging that the posting meant that they were unprofessional and unlikely to honour any bookings made for them to perform.
The booking agency relied principally on the defences of
justification and fair comment. Both were struck out in the High Court. The Court of Appeal reinstated the defence of justification but upheld the striking out of fair comment.
The Supreme Court
unanimously allows the appeal and holds that the defence of fair comment should be open to the agency.
A 'fair comment' must indicate in general terms the facts on which the comment is based, so that the reader was in a position to judge for
himself how far the comment was well founded
However this defence had originated in respect of comments about work products such as books and plays, which necessarily identified the product. It had been complicated by developments which extended
the defence to cover the conduct of individuals, where this was of public interest.
Today many people take advantage of the internet to make public comments and the defence would be robbed of much of its efficacy if readers had to be given
detailed information to enable evaluation of the comment.
The Supreme Court agreed that there was a case for reform of a number of aspects of the defence of fair comment which did not arise directly in this case.
The whole area merited
consideration by the Law Commission or an expert committee. The only more general reform being made by this judgment was the re-naming of the defence from fair comment to honest comment .
Applying the law to the facts of this case,
the posting by the booking agency referred to the breach of contract relating to the Bibis restaurant, and to the Gillettes' email, and these facts could be relied on. The email arguably evidenced a contemptuous approach to the Gillettes' contractual
obligations to the agency. The email as quoted arguably evidenced a contemptuous attitude to contracts in general.
It would be a matter for the jury to decide whether the inaccuracy in the quotation made a significant difference.
defence should therefore be reinstated.
|25th November |
Calling for urgent reforms to UK libel law
Based on article from libelreform.org
Dear Prime Minister
We are writing to ask that you introduce urgent reforms in the Government's proposed draft Defamation Bill to protect open discussion on the internet.
The English law of defamation is having a disproportionate, chilling effect on online writers, e-communities and web hosts:
- The libel laws have not been updated to address the rise of online publication. The current multiple publication rule, dating back to 1849, defines every download as a publication and a potential new cause of action.
- Internet service providers can be held liable for comments they host and therefore are inclined to take down material or websites even before the writer or publisher has been made aware of a complaint. Such
intermediaries usually have no access to the background or relevant facts and should not be expected to play judge and jury in determining whether a writer's material is defamatory or not. This is a decision that can and should only be made by the direct
- Online blogs and forums are available around the world and there appear, in practice, to be few restrictions on material published substantially on matters and concerning parties and
reputations elsewhere being the subject of legal action in English courts.
- The Internet is used for publication by millions of ordinary citizens for whom the current defences to an action for defamation
have not been developed.
We ask that the Government's draft Bill provide the following protection for discussion on the Internet:
- ISPs and forum hosts – intermediaries - should not be forced to take down material without a determination by a court or competent authority that the content is defamatory. The claimant should in the first instance
approach the author rather than an uninvolved intermediary.
- There should be a single publication rule and a limitation period of one year from original publication.
Claimants in libel law should demonstrate that there has been a substantial tort in the jurisdiction in which they bring proceedings.
- There should be a public interest defence in
cases where the material is on a matter of public interest and the author has acted in accordance with expectations of the medium or forum.
Richard Allan, Director of Policy EU, Facebook
Emma Ascroft, Director, Public & Social Policy, Yahoo! UK & Ireland
Lisa Fitzgerald, Senior Counsel, AOL (UK) Limited
Nicholas Lansman, Secretary-General, Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA), which represents providers of Internet services in the UK and
has over 200 members representing 95 per cent of the access market.
Justine Roberts, CEO, Mumsnet
|23rd November |
So you've had a threatening letter. What can you do?
Based on article from
you’ve had a threatening letter. What can you do? [pdf] from senseaboutscience.org.uk
A new guide to the libel laws for bloggers has just been published.
The guide, entitled So you've had a threatening letter. What can you do? , is published by Sense About Science in association with Index on Censorship, English PEN, the
Media Legal Defence Initiative, the Association of British Science Writers and the World Federation of Science Journalists.
To coincide with the guide's publication, Sense About Science is making available a summary of the effects of the English
libel laws on bloggers, drawn from cases that have come to attention since the start of the Libel Reform Campaign and from the recent survey of bloggers. The summary identifies the particular ways in which online forums are affected by the current laws,
- the individual and non-professional character of much online writing, and therefore the more pronounced inequality of arms, particularly where people are writing about companies, institutions and products;
- related to the above, the relative
lack of familiarity with libel law and access to advice about handling complaints;
- the liability of ISPs, leading to material being removed without consultation with authors;
- and the vulnerability to legal action arising from the
international availability of Internet material, and it being possible to republish old material by downloading it.
Reform of English libel law has been promised, and if campaigners are successful, then changes that will give better defences to online publishers and writers may come into force in 2012.
This leaflet is certainly not a substitute for legal
advice, but it does provide information which other bloggers and writers who have experienced libel threats say they wished they had known at the outset.
|21st November |
Now the libel law sharks are going for the little guy
article from guardian.co.uk by Nick Cohen
It is a sad truth about the British media that a story's chances of making the newspapers increase in proportion to an editor's ability to attach breasts to it. The tale of how the makers of Boob Job tried to undermine freedom of
speech by threatening Dr Dalia Nield was no exception to the rule.
I don't mean to mock. The press does not argue strongly enough for the freedom on which its business and our liberties depend and it was good to see
journalists defend the doctor.
The Mail had asked her opinion of Rodial's claim that its £125 jars of Boob Job would expand breasts by half a cup size if a woman rubbed the cream into her chest for 56 days on the
trot. Dr Nield is one of Britain's foremost cosmetic surgeons. She gave every impression of not believing a word of Rodial's hype. She told the Mail that women needed a lot more data from Rodial and wondered whether the cream would do more harm than
good. For this, Rodial sent her a letter threatening defamation proceedings. Quite rightly, reporters protested about yet another attempt by our wretched legal profession to silence informed debate on matters of public interest.
|10th July |
Government promise libel reform legislation in 2011
Based on article from
Ministers have said they are to reviews the laws of libel with the aim of bolstering freedom of expression and the integrity of academic research.
Justice Minister Lord McNally said the coalition would publish a draft bill for consultation early
next year. The Conservatives and Lib Dems included a commitment to reform the laws on libel and defamation in their coalition agreement in May.
Debating a private member's bill on the issue in the Lords, Lib Dem peer Lord McNally said ministers
intended to bring forward legislation of their own next year: Freedom of speech is the foundation of democracy
We need investigative journalism and scientific research to be able to flourish
without the fear of unfounded, lengthy and costly defamation and libel cases being brought against them.
We are committed to reforming the law on defamation and want to focus on ensuring that a right and a fair balance
is struck between freedom of expression and the protection of reputation.
The Index of Censorship said changes were needed to help foster academic debate and should not be seen as a licence for the media to publish what they liked. We
are absolutely delighted about this but obviously there is a long way to go, said its editor Jo Glanville: There will be consultations and nobody knows what this will end up looking like. But it is a real triumph.
|9th July |
Second Reading of the Libel Reform Bill in the House of Lords
For more details of the bill and complete coverage see www.libelreform.org
Anthony Lester QC writes:
[Today] I will introduce the second reading debate on my Private Members Defamation Bill. This is a unique opportunity for Parliament to reform our antiquated and unjust libel laws.
I am grateful for your support - 100s of you have spoken out and written about this; you have told the Libel Reform Campaign about threats of libel action which lead you to remove articles, blogs, reviews, academic papers, reports
and books; your organisations have joined the campaign and 100s of MPs signed up for reform after you wrote to them.
Senior judges recognise the pressing need for reform - the Court of Appeal in Simon Singh's libel
case highlighted how ludicrous it is that finding out if he even had a defence cost Simon £200,000 and 2 years before he got to court. All of this has drawn attention to the profound problems with the law as it stands that need to be addressed by
legislation from Parliament.
|25th May |
Lord Lester to introduce libel reform bill in the Lords
Based on leader from timesonline.co.uk
Draft of Defamation Bill [pdf]
The right of free speech is a central democratic principle. But so too is the right of individuals to be protected against libel and defamation of character. The job of the legislature and judiciary is to balance those conflicting freedoms. In England,
that balance has become skewed: libel law gives robust protection to reputation, but it increasingly does so at the expense of freedom of speech.
The Government is aware of the problem. Nick Clegg has indicated that the coalition will review the
libel laws. It is fortunate, then, that on Thursday a Private Member's Bill will be published that offers an ideal model for reform. Lord Lester of Herne Hill will bring a Defamation Bill before the House of Lords that aims to modernise and simplify the
law in several respects. It would bring up to date the defences available for those being sued for libel. It would require claimants to show real harm before they could sue. It would demand that corporate claimants must prove actual damage. And it would
make the normal mode of trial one of a judge sitting alone, rather than a jury.
Lord Lester's Bill also contains measures to cope with the advent of the internet. At the moment, foreign claimants are pursuing cases in the UK courts based on the
fact that articles published on the world wide web can be downloaded here. Every time an article is downloaded, it constitutes a new publication, which resets the one-year limitation period for libel actions, a law that dates from 1849, when the Duke of
Brunswick made law by sending his valet to obtain a 17-year-old back copy of the Weekly Dispatch to sue for defamation.
This is not a Bill to promote irresponsible journalism, or to placate newspapers whingeing about libel. It seeks to restore the
right balance between those who pursue public interest reporting and those who seek to defend themselves from malicious attacks. If nothing is done the result will be increasing self-censorship, because of the uncertainty over what constitutes fair
comment and because of the size of damages that can be awarded, which Lord Lester's Bill seeks to limit.
|20th April |
Business man threatens to sue US journalists in UK courts
article from guardian.co.uk
A Saudi businessman who is being sued over a suspected multibillion-dollar fraud is invoking English libel law in what experts say is the latest high-profile example of libel tourism .
Maan al-Sanea is being sued by banks in New York,
Dubai, London and the Cayman Islands over claims he is responsible for more than $15bn of bad debt in banks in Bahrain. But reports of allegations in papers around the world, including the Wall Street Journal and the The National in Abu Dhabi, have
resulted in threats of libel action by lawyers in London, the Guardian has learned.
Journalists covering the case, which could have damaging repercussions for Saudi Arabia's business reputation, have received letters from the law firm Harbottle
& Lewis warning of a libel suit in the high court unless articles about Sanea are withdrawn.
|13th April |
All 3 major parties commit to libel reform
All 3 major political parties in the UK are committed to libel law reform.
Dominic Grieve, the Shadow Justice Minister, told us on Friday that the Conservative party is committed, if elected, to undertaking a fundamental review of the libel
laws with a view to enacting legislation to reform them. This reform could best be done by means of a separate Libel Bill and this is the preferred approach for us.
The Lib Dems made libel law reform a policy in September 2009 after Professor
Richard Dawkins addressed their party conference and Jack Straw committed Labour to reforming English libel law at our mass-lobby of Parliament on 23rd March.
The Labour manifesto, released today, pledges To encourage freedom of speech and
access to information, we will bring forward new legislation on libel to protect the right of defendants to speak freely.
|1st April |
MPs block shortcut to limit lawyers fees in libel cases
article from indexoncensorship.org
A Statutory Instrument that would have reformed costs in English libel cases was stalled at committee stage tonight after several Labour MPs voted against their party whip to bock a reduction of lawyers' success fees from a 100%mark-up to 10%.
Chris Mullin, Peter Kilfoyle, Tom Watson and Jim Sheridan and Conservative Julie Kirkbride acted against the move. Watson and Kilfoyle have both taken advantage of Conditional Fee Agreements in past court cases. Other Conservative MPs abstained from the
The proposal will now go to a full parliamentary vote.
|15th March |
Academic paper doubting lie detector capability banned by libel
Based on article from su.se
Francisco Lacerda, a professor of phonetics at Stockholm University, is one of two scientists threatened with legal action after the publication of a scientific article condemning the use of lie detectors. The Israeli company Nemesysco, which
manufactures detectors, has written in a letter to the researchers' publishers that the researchers may be sued for libel if they continue to write on this subject in the future.
One year ago, Francisco Lacerda, a professor of linguistics at
Stockholm University, and Anders Eriksson, professor of phonetics at the University of Gothenburg, published an article in the International Journal of Speech Language and the Law, a magazine for voice experts working for the police and security
services. The article entitled "Charlatantry in forensic speech science" gave an overview of the last fifty years of research in the field of lie detectors. The article's conclusion is that there is no scientific evidence to show that lie
detectors actually work.
...Read the full article
|24th February |
Select Committee reports on privacy and libel
Based on article
from guardian.co.uk by John Kampfner
When the culture, media and sport select committee began its work more than a year ago, many feared the worst.
Yet the more they probed and the more they heard from organisations defending free expression, the more the MPs began to understand the
vital need to distinguish between investigative journalism, a noble cause, and prurient journalism, a less salutary one. Some aspects of the report are disappointing. One that relates to privacy is potentially alarming. On balance though this is an
important step forward, giving cross-party support for fundamental change to England's hideous libel laws.
The committee details the enormous costs faced by publications, particularly small ones, in defending themselves. The report criticises law
firms for deliberately stringing out suits so they can ratchet up costs and force people into settling and apologising, even where they have nothing to apologise for. It stops short of reversing the burden of proof, but it does suggest reinforcing the
defence in court for brave reporting and making it harder for companies to sue to protect their reputations. The committee's chairman, the Conservative MP John Whittingdale, says he and his colleagues were eager to correct the balance which has tipped
too far in favour of the plaintiff .
The MPs denounce the ease with which foreign-based oligarchs, sheikhs and their like have used avaricious legal firms and pliant judges to chill the free speech of NGOs, authors and others – so much so that
US Congress has considered legislation to protect Americans from British courts. They criticise Jack Straw, the justice secretary, for not tackling the problem of libel tourism , and the damage to the country's reputation, describing the measures
taken by US legislators as a humiliation.
...Read full article
also article from business.timesonline.co.uk
Rules for reporting:
- No legislation on privacy
- Press Complaints Commission to recommend prior notification to the subject of articles, subject to a public interest test
- A new law to clarify Parliamentary privilege and ensure free and fair
- The burden of proof should be reversed in the case of big corporations so that they must prove libel and not the defendant
- Action to curb the use of super-injunctions and research to discover the extent of their use
new regulator, a Press Complaints and Standards Commission, with powers to fine and halt publications
|19th February |
Parliamentary committee considers PCC and libel reform
Based on article from
Tougher powers for the Press Complaints Commission and an end to the right of companies to sue for libel will be proposed next week in a long awaited report by MPs. But the much criticised press watchdog will escape calls for its abolition or for any
form of state regulation of the press.
The PCC needs a radical shake-up to turn it into a body that is proactive, rigorous and is taken seriously by the public, the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee will say. New powers could extend to
halting the printing of a newspaper edition. John Whittingdale, the committee's chairman, says the watchdog should also have the ability to impose large fines.
The commission has come under fire this week for failing to uphold complaints about a
Daily Mail article into the death last October of the Boyzone singer Stephen Gately. The column attracted 25,000 complaints from readers who perceived it to be homophobic. But the PCC said it should be slow to prevent columnists from expressing their
views, however controversial they might be . It was a point of principle that newspapers could print views that might offend people, it said.
The complaint made to the PCC that the Daily Mail's column on Gately's death was inaccurate,
intrusive and discriminatory was not upheld. Gately died at his holiday home on the island of Majorca. His civil partner Andrew Cowles made a complaint to the PCC about what had been written by the columnist Jan Moir. The PCC said that it could fully
understand why Cowles and a record number of complainants were upset, but ruled that Moir's comments had not breached press guidelines.
In a second move that will please media organisations, the committee is expected to reject calls by Max Mosley,
the former Formula One chief, for victims of media exposés to be notified in advance. There are fears that a requirement for prior notification will lead to judges imposing injunctions that would prevent many investigative stories going to
A third key recommendation expected in the report, to be published next week, is that businesses with more than ten employees will lose the right to sue for defamation.
The wideranging report by MPs will cover press standards,
privacy, libel and libel tourism , super-injunctions and costs in defamation cases.
|25th January |
Corporations should be open to uninhibited public scrutiny and criticism
Based on article from
indexoncensorship.org by Julian Petley
Question: what do McDonald's, Monsanto and Trafigura have in common? Answer: they've all been accused of routinely administering SLAPPS. These are Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation — forms of strategic legal intimidation or gamesmanship
employed by large corporations against their critics in order to frighten and harass them, and tie them in legal knots. Such actions are also designed to demonstrate to would-be critics the fate that awaits them should they dare to publicise their views.
That SLAPPS frequently involve threatening to sue critics for libel makes it particularly important that Index, Sense about Science and English Pen have followed the example of some Australian states and proposed limiting the ability of
corporations and associations to sue, unless they can prove malicious falsehood.
...Read full article
|27th December |
Panel to report on libel law reform before election
Based on article from
Foreigners could be barred from bringing libel actions with tenuous links to the UK under reforms being considered by ministers.
Jack Straw, the justice secretary, is to appoint an expert panel to examine how to prevent overseas litigants from
using British courts for defamation cases with little connection to this country.
The new working group of lawyers, academics and newspaper editors will report by mid-March, with the aim of implementing some recommendations before the general
election. They will be asked to consider nine areas of concern about Britain's libel laws, with so-called libel tourism the priority. Related Links
In an interview, Straw said: Libel law is not in the right place — there cannot be any
disagreement with that. This group will work fairly swiftly to get a report out before parliament is dissolved.
Straw said he was disturbed by the use of UK courts to silence doctors and scientists. It is very worrying, he said. There ought to be open and robust debate in the scientific and medical world. If someone who has expertise in a field believes a piece of medical equipment is not doing what it is supposed to do, and is claimed to do, they ought to be free to say so.
Straw is also holding discussions with officials in Brussels about libel jurisdiction in Europe. He said the European commission had acknowledged that the system was operating unsatisfactorily .
The new panel will be asked to
consider the case for capping the level of damages that courts can award, and whether a libel tribunal should be established to resolve defamation claims out of court. The experts will examine how to make it easier for scientists, authors and
commentators to defend their words on the basis of fair comment, or in the public interest; and whether the burden of proof should be shifted from the defendant to the litigant.
Large and medium-sized corporations may have to prove malicious
falsehood to succeed in a defamation action, while smaller firms and individuals could have to provide more proof that their reputation has suffered. The panel will also consider whether there should be special rules for internet blogs.
hopes that most reforms can be implemented through secondary legislation , avoiding the need for a time-consuming new parliamentary bill. Libel lawyers, however, insist that the system works well and accuse the government of trying to curry favour
with the media ahead of the general election.
|13th December |
Simon Singh asks for people to sign petition
From Simon Singh
petition at libelreform.org
See also Take on the libel bullies from
indexoncensorship.org by Alexei Sayle
It has been 18 months since I was sued for libel after publishing my article on chiropractic. I am continuing to fight my case and am prepared to defend my article for another 18 months or more if necessary. The ongoing libel case
has been distracting, draining and frustrating, but it has always been heartening to receive so much support, particularly from people who realise that English libel laws need to be reformed in order to allow robust discussion of matters of public
interest. Over twenty thousand people signed the statement to Keep Libel Laws out of Science, but now we need you to sign up again and add your name to the new statement.
The new statement is necessary because the
campaign for libel reform is stepping up a gear and will be working on much broader base. Sense About Science has joined forces with Index on Censorship and English PEN and their goal is to reach 100,000 or more signatories in order to help politicians
appreciate the level of public support for libel reform. We have already met several leading figures from all three main parties and they have all showed signs of interest. Now, however, we need a final push in order to persuade them to commit to libel
Finally, I would like to make three points. First, I will stress again - please take the time to reinforce your support for libel reform by signing up at www.libelreform.org. Second, please spread the word by
blogging, twittering, Facebooking and emailing in order to encourage friends, family and colleagues to sign up. Third, for those supporters who live overseas, please also add your name to the petition and encourage others to do the same; unfortunately
and embarrassingly, English libel laws impact writers in the rest of the world, but now you can help change those laws by showing your support for libel reform. While I fight in my own libel battle, I hope that you will fight the bigger battle of libel
|11th December |
Campaigners regroup to reform Britain's libel laws
Based on article from
See also petition at libelreform.org
England’s libel laws are unjust, against the public interest and internationally criticised — there is urgent need for reform this is the message performers, writers, poets, patient groups, legal experts, broadcasters, journalists and others
represented by the Coalition for Libel Reform (English PEN, Index on Censorship and Sense About Science) are sending to politicians urging them to support a bill for major reforms of the English libel laws now, in the interests of
fairness, the public interest and free speech.
At the launch of the National Campaign for Libel Reform on Thursday, performers and others urged the public to sign a petition demanding reform of the libel laws, highlighting that for the first time
in over a century we have an opportunity to change our unfair and repressive libel laws.
|26th November |
British doctor sued over academic criticism of medical research
Based on article from
See also How science is shackled by intellectual property
from guardian.co.uk by Sarah Chan and Professor John Harris
A British doctor who is being sued for libel after criticising an American company's research has pledged to turn the action into a test case for freedom of speech.
Peter Wilmshurst, a consultant cardiologist at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, told
The Times that he aims to use a public-interest defence to fight the claim from NMT Medical and establish the principle that scientists may engage freely in academic debate.
He said he was prepared to risk losing his home to take the case to trial
because victory would set a precedent protecting other scientists from legal bullying . Dr Wilmshurst said: I have got a responsibility to fight this. There is a fundamental principle of science at stake here. People have to be free to
There is growing concern about the use of England's draconian libel laws to stifle expert scrutiny of scientific evidence. Simon Singh, the science writer, has been sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association
over an article in which he questioned the evidence that spinal manipulation could treat childhood conditions such as asthma and colic.
Many scientific journals admit that they now seek legal advice before publishing some academic papers, and
several websites have withdrawn scientific articles claimed as defamatory because of the prohibitive costs of defending such actions.
Dr Wilmshurt's case began with his involvement in a study of a medical device made by NMT called Starflex,
designed to close a type of hole in the heart known as a patent foramen ovale (PFO). The study investigated Starflex as a potential treatment for migraine, which is significantly more common among people with a PFO, but failed to find benefits.
a cardiology conference in Washington in 2007, Dr Wilmshurst criticised NMT in relation to the research. His comments were reported by Heartwire, a website, prompting NMT to sue him.
Dr Wilmshurst and his solicitor, Mark Lewis, will meet NMT's
legal team next month for mediation. If no deal is reached, the case is expected to go to trial.
|24th November |
Jack Straw sets out to reform UK libel laws
article from business.timesonline.co.uk
Jack Straw is preparing to draw up proposals for wholesale reform of England's libel laws.
The justice secretary says the large legal fees involved in defamation cases in English courts are jeopardising freedom of speech, potentially curbing vital
debate by scientists, academics and journalists.
The huge payouts awarded to individuals who successfully claim their reputation has been damaged has made London the libel capital of the world.
Last night, Straw warned that the bonanza for
lawyers and claimants was having a chilling effect and pledged radical changes. It is very important that citizens are able to take action for defamation if they are seriously defamed. But no-win, no-fee arrangements have got out of hand. The
system has become unbalanced, he said.
In measures that are expected to win cross-party support, Straw believes individuals and media groups must have a clearer right to express their views, as in other countries.
A free press can't
operate or be effective unless it can offer readers comment as well as news. What concerns me is that the current arrangements are being used by big corporations to restrict fair comment, not always by journalists but also by academics, he said.
He also wants to see new restrictions on no-win, no-fee arrangements and curbs on legal fees involved in fighting cases. In many cases, lawyers who win libel cases make 10 times the money their clients are awarded. He cited one case in which a
regional newspaper was forced to pay damages of £5,000 to a plaintiff but £50,000 to the plaintiff's lawyer.
The proposed changes are still under discussion, but Straw is keen to begin the process, which could involve a new libel bill,
as soon as possible.
Update: Working Group
2nd December 2009. See
article from indexoncensorship.org
Justice Secretary Jack Straw is to establish a working group to examine England's controversial libel laws. The group will consist of media lawyers, editors and experts. The government has also said it will respond to English Pen and Index on Censorship's libel report, along with recommendations by the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee within two months of the publication of the Select Committee report.
The working group is expected to convene in January 2010.
|21st November |
Defamation cases increased by 11% in 2008
Based on article from
The number of defamation cases that reached the high court surged by 11% in 2008 to a four-year high, as foreign claimants took advantage of the UK's tougher laws to seek libel tourism awards from publishers.
A total of 259 high court
defamation writs were issued last year, according to a review by the law firm Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, the most since 2004.
These figures show that the UK remains a very attractive jurisdiction for libel claimants, said Jaron Lewis, a
media partner at RPC. This is because our laws are very pro-claimant, making it difficult for the media to defend claims, even when they are unmeritorious.
RPC added that most of the cases that did reach the high court were either settled
before a trial began, or withdrawn, often because the costs associated with an action, which can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds, were too high for publishers to risk.
For some publishers the cost of losing a libel trial, or even
winning one, might put them at risk of closure, said Lewis. It is not the level of damages so much as the requirement to pay a claimant's legal costs, which will often be a significant six-figure sum.
However, RPC said that if the
figures were seen in the wider context of the explosion of news content across the internet, the number of libel claims actually declined significantly, in relative terms, during the past decade.
Although the figures have gone up by 11%, the
volume of material being published, particularly on the web, has increased at a much higher rate, said Lewis. So the proportion of articles resulting in libel claims is lower now than 10 years ago.
|11th November |
Report from English PEN and Index on Censorship
See report from libelreform.org
Libel reform: The laws that stain Britain's good name from
After a year-long Inquiry, English PEN and Index on Censorship have concluded that English libel law has a negative impact on freedom of expression, both in the UK and around the world. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, and should only
be limited in special circumstances. Yet English libel law imposes unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on free speech, sending a chilling effect through the publishing and journalism sectors in the UK. This effect now reaches around the world,
because of so-called libel tourism , where foreign cases are heard in London, widely known as a town named sue . The law was designed to serve the rich and powerful, and does not reflect the interests of a modern democratic society.
In this report, we cut through the intimidating complexity of English libel law to show how the legal framework has become increasingly unbalanced. We believe that the law needs to facilitate the free exchange of ideas and information, whilst offering redress to anyone whose reputation is falsely or unfairly damaged. Yet our inquiry has shown that the law as it stands is hindering the free exchange of ideas and information. We repeatedly encountered the same concerns, expressed by lawyers, publishers, journalists, bloggers and NGOs, who have no wish to abolish libel law, but know from experience of its chilling effect on legitimate publication.
In response to their concerns, which are set out below, we offer the following recommendations to restore the balance between free speech and reputation:
1. In libel, the defendant is guilty until proven innocent
recommend: Require the claimant to demonstrate damage and falsity
2. English libel law is more about making money than saving a reputation
We recommend: Cap damages at £10,000
definition of publication defies common sense
We recommend: Abolish the Duke of Brunswick rule and introduce a single publication rule
4. London has become an international libel tribunal
We recommend: No case should be heard in this jurisdiction unless at least 10 per cent of copies of the relevant publication have been circulated here
5. There are few viable alternatives to a full trial
We recommend: Establish a libel tribunal as a low-cost forum for hearings
6. There is no robust public interest defence in libel law
We recommend: Strengthen the public interest defence
7. Comment is not free
We recommend: Expand the definition of fair comment
8. The potential cost of defending a libel action is
We recommend: Cap base costs and make success fees and After the Event (ATE) insurance premiums non-recoverable
9. The law does not reflect the arrival of the internet
recommend: Exempt interactive online services and interactive chat from liability
10. Not everything deserves a reputation
We recommend: Exempt large and medium-sized corporate bodies and associations from libel law
unless they can prove malicious falsehood
|9th November |
US newspapers explain that libel tourism may lead to internet blocks to British Access
Based on article from guardian.co.uk
Britain's reputation for libel tourism is driving American and foreign publishers to consider abandoning the sale of newspaper and magazines in Britain and may lead to them blocking access to websites, MPs have been warned.
human rights groups and campaigners have expressed substantial and increasing concern because comments that would be protected under the freedom of speech in the US constitution are actionable in London courts once published here, no matter how
small the readership.
A memorandum submitted to a Commons select committee, ahead of a meeting with US publishers, states: Leading US newspapers are actively considering abandoning the supply of the 200-odd copies they make available for sale
in London – mainly to Americans who want full details of their local news and sport. They do not make profits out of these minimal and casual sales and they can no longer risk losing millions of dollars in a libel action which they would never face under
US law. Does the UK really want to be seen as the only country in Europe – indeed in the world – where important US papers cannot be obtained in print form?
The submission is on behalf of a number of US media outlets, including the Los Angeles
Times, the New York Times and MacMillan (US), as well as Human Rights Watch, Global Witness US and Greenpeace International.
|1st November |
Britain's libel laws are killing investigative journalism
See article from
|30th October |
Lords allow blasphemous libel to stand in Northern Ireland
Hansard transcription from publications.parliament.uk
The House of Lords debated on the 28th October 2009, Lord Lester's clause included in the Coroners and Justice Bill to abolish blasphemy in Northern Ireland.
The amendment was withdrawn. This means that the law stands as it is.
was that it is an issue that should be debated by the Northern Ireland Assembly rather than Westminster.
|28th October |
Let's cheer the demise of criminal libel
See article from guardian.co.uk
|24th May |
English PEN note Lord Lester amendment to abolish seditious and criminal libel
The UK parliament edged a step closer to repealing the archaic crimes of seditious libel and criminal defamation, as the House of Lords debated the government’s Coroners and Justice Bill on its second reading.
Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Anthony
Lester QC, indicated his intention to table an amendment to the Bill that would abolish seditious and criminal libel, saying:
It took us 140 years to abolish the crime of blasphemy; I hope that this House will see
fit to remove these crimes from our statute book as well. I hope that the government will support the amendments; indeed, there were straws in the wind indicating that they might do so.
Speaking at a meeting in Holborn, Dr Evan
Harris said that he has heard supportive noises from the Ministry of Justice on this issue. Index on Censorship and English PEN will be lobbying the government to formalise this support, as soon as possible.
For campaigners, the abolition of
seditious libel and criminal defamation in the UK would be an invaluable tool in the fight for free expression worldwide. In recent years, both Article 19 and International PEN have produced research on the widespread use of sedition and criminal
defamation laws to silence legitimate political protest.