Less than a week remains before the Government's consultation on its draft Defamation Bill closes, and everyone is being urged to get involved
The proposals aim to bring libel law up to date, striking the balance between protecting people's right to free speech from unjustified libel actions, while enabling people who have genuinely been defamed to protect their reputations. They also suggest ways to speed court cases up to cut the costs associated with defamation proceedings.
The Ministry of Justice has been running a consultation on the draft Bill, encouraging as many people as possible to get involved in shaping the future of libel law in the UK, and this is due to close on Friday.
Justice Minister Lord McNally said people should seize the opportunity to make their views on this important issue known:
'There is no doubt that the law in this area is out of date. In recent years an increased threat of costly libel actions has placed a chilling effect on the work of scientists, academics and investigative journalists – and this has to stop.
'But we must ensure that when we reform the law, we strike the correct balance between freedom of expression on the one hand, and protection of reputation on the other, and that is why we have been running this consultation.
'I believe the way to find the right solution is to get as wide a range of views as possible. This draft Bill is a unique opportunity to shape the future of our libel law, and I would encourage anyone who has not already shared their views to get in touch and give us their comments on our proposals.'
The draft Bill includes provision for:
- A new 'public interest' defence which can be used by defendants in defamation cases.
- A requirement for claimants to demonstrate substantial harm, or likely substantial harm, to their reputation before they can sue.
- Reducing so-called 'libel tourism' by making it tougher to bring overseas claims which have little connection to the UK in the English courts.
- A single publication rule, meaning repeat claims for libel cannot be made every time a publication is accessed on the internet.
The consultation paper also includes questions on a number of other areas not currently featured in the draft Bill. These include the role of the internet, and a new court procedure to cut the sometimes overwhelming costs associated with libel actions by encouraging early resolution of key issues. The Government will then consider whether these measures should be included when the substantive Bill is put before Parliament.
The consultation is open until 10 June