Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Government gets behind libel reform

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Do come on over (and change your bookmarks accordingly): rationalist.org.uk

Fantastic news reaches us this morning from the corridors of power – Index on Censorship reports that Justice Secretary Jack Straw has this morning announced that the government will look to address the issue of libel reform in the next parliament. Here's what he's proposing:

• The current multiple publication rule will be replaced with a ‘single publication rule.’ This will ensure that claimants in libel proceedings cannot bring a case against every publication or download of a story repeating the same claims – for example, when an article published by one outlet is held on an online archive. Instead, claimants will only be able to bring a single action, within one year of the date of the original publication. The interests of people who are defamed will be protected by giving the court the power to extend this period where necessary.

• Consideration will be given to a statutory defence to protect publications that are in the public interest. This will help address the ‘chilling effect’ that the threat of libel proceedings can sometimes have on investigative journalism, which occurs when media outlets and NGOs are cautious about publishing important information due to the threat of legal action.

• The Government will also move to prevent the growth of ‘libel tourism’ – when foreign claimants use English courts to make libel claims against foreign publications outside the EU which can be accessed in the UK. This will include asking the Civil Procedure Rule Committee to consider tightening the rules where the court’s permission is required to serve defamation cases outside England and Wales. This will help head off inappropriate claims at the earliest stage and stop them from reaching court.

So, it looks like the Libel Reform campaign, to which we have given our backing (in the form of our parent charity, the Rationalist Association) is proving successful. Of course, there is a slight catch in the Labour government declaring its intentions to address libel reform in the next parliament – with the polls pointing to us having a Conservative government by May, what we need now is a commitment from the Conservative Party to address libel if it does indeed form the next government. It's a reason to continue supporting the Libel Reform campaign (they're in parliament this morning on a mass lobby of MPs). And, as I've just spotted legal blogger Jack of Kent saying on Twitter, it's a very good reason to get on to your local Tory candidates (indeed, all your candidates) and ask them if they support reform.


Anonymous said...

Labour have no chance of winning the next election, so Jack Straw can support any policies he thinks might get them a few more votes, safe in knowledge that he won't have to follow through with them

Barney Alrewas said...

I wonder if there is any chance of somebody designing a Libel Reform Campaign ribbon for blogs and websites? I would design one myself, but am useless with graphics.