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Campaigners delighted Defamation Bill announced in Queen’s Speech

Archived news: 09 May 2012

The announcement of a defamation bill in the Queen’s Speech is a victory for the Libel Reform Campaign (Index on Censorship, English PEN and Sense About Science), which has been calling for legislation to reform the libel law since November 2009.

The campaign is supported by almost 100 organisations and 60,000 members of the public, including leading names from science, the arts and public life. The bill will open the way to ending libel tourism and protecting free expression for journalists, writers, bloggers and scientists around the world. However, there is still work to be done and we will carry on campaigning to make sure that the detail in the final bill will truly deliver reform.

How you can help

The Libel Reform Campaign would like the defamation bill to be tabled sooner rather than later, so it's important to keep the pressure on. Please sign the petition and let the government know there is real demand for reform.

Comments from the Libel Reform Campaign

Kirsty Hughes, Chief Executive, Index on Censorship:

“Finally, the government is to stop libel tourism so wealthy foreign claimants can no longer use our High Court to silence their critics abroad. The 60,000 people who signed the Libel Reform Campaign will be delighted that the government has announced this reform, though we’ll be awaiting the detail.”

Tracey Brown, Managing Director, Sense About Science:

“We and thousands of others have campaigned to stop the libel laws’ bullying and chilling effects on discussions about health, scientific research, consumer safety, history and human rights. We are really pleased to see the Government has moved closer to honouring its promise of a fairer law and protection of free speech in today’s Queen’s Speech. This opens the way to developing a law guided by public interest not powerful interests.”

Simon Singh, defendant in British Chiropractic Association v Singh:

“I continue to be contacted by journalists, scientists and others who are being silenced by libel threats or libel claims. The reform promised in the Queen’s speech today is a welcome response to the intolerable effects of the current laws. I hope that the Government will now move rapidly to bring forward a bill that protects those writing about serious matters in the public interest.”


Jo Glanville, Editor, Index on Censorship:

“We have now have a chance for libel legislation that’s fit for the 21st century. The end of the single publication rule and greater protection for internet service providers will help to put an end to the chilling effect online.”

Justine Roberts, co-founder and CEO, Mumsnet:

“While the draft Defamation Bill was a very good start, it didn’t go far enough to protect freedom of expression, particularly in the online environment. Websites and hosts of user-generated comment risk becoming tactical targets for those who wish to clamp down on criticism or investigation of their activities.”

Richard Dunstan, Social Policy Officer, Citizens Advice:

“Whilst inclusion of a Libel Reform Bill is clearly good news, the Bill must provide for a clear and effective public interest defence for third sector organisations, such as Citizens Advice, trying to shine a spotlight on corporate practices that are unfair, detrimental to the public interest, or even unlawful. Just today, we await a landmark ruling in a case that would never have reached a judge had we been silenced - as we very nearly were - by unscrupulous threats of a libel action.”

Philip Campbell PhD, Editor-in-Chief, Nature:

“It is essential to the public trust in science that scientific integrity is upheld and that bad behaviour is brought to light. It is therefore imperative that libel legislation be revised to achieve a better balance of interests between those accused of misconduct and those who should be better able to write about them.”

Hardeep Singh, journalist and libel defendant:

"The inclusion of the defamation bill in the Queen's Speech marks a major milestone for The Libel Reform Campaign. It can't be right that ordinary people risk their livelihoods when getting caught up in costly libel proceedings. The Government has already investigated ways to weed out unmeritorious claims, whereby claimants will have to show serious harm before a case progresses. If passed by Parliament, these types of amendments will not only make our libel laws fairer, but go some way in restoring London's reputation from being a 'town called sue.' "

Dr Peter Wilmshurst who was sued by medical device company NMT Medical:

“Patients have suffered because the draconian defamation laws were used to silence doctors with legitimate concerns about medical safety. ... It is hypocritical for parliamentarians to expect ordinary citizens to speak out on matters of public interest and safety, when they do not allow ordinary citizens the same protection that MPs reserve for themselves to protect them from misuse of the defamation law.”

Till Sommer, Internet Service Providers Association:

“ISPA welcomes the Government’s commitment to libel reform. The current regulatory framework has failed to provide clarity to hosting and Internet service providers and has ultimately has had a chilling effect on freedom of speech online. We hope that Parliament will address the current shortcomings in the upcoming session and we will follow the political process closely to ensure that the reforms strike the best possible compromise between protecting providers, claimants and authors.”

 

For more information about the Libel Reform Campaign contact Mike Harris at mike@indexoncensorship.org or on 07974 838468.

 

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