Do companies have feelings? Campaigners condemn move to water down Defamation Bill

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Libel reform campaigners have condemned moves by a Conservative MP to remove a section of the Defamation Bill limiting the right of companies to sue.

It had been feared that the Bill would be shelved indefinitely after a Leveson-law was tagged on to it in the House of Lords. But after a cross-party deal on statute-backed press regulation last month, it is now expected that the Leveson amendment will be removed and the bill passed by the House of Commons on 16 April.

The Libel Reform Campaign says that then move by former libel lawyer Sir Edward Garnier MP would remove a clause that would compel companies to show financial damage before they can sue for libel.

The group said in a statement: “The use of libel laws by companies to chill legitimate criticism and bully whistleblowers into silence is well documented. Action to stop this situation was recommended by two parliamentary committees.

“The Libel Reform Campaign believes that the clause on corporations is already moderate: allowing companies to sue, but adding a hurdle so they must prove actual financial loss. It would also prevent private companies performing public functions from suing for libel, such as those running the transportation of prisoners. This would bring them into line with restrictions already placed on public bodies.”

Director of English PEN Jo Glanville said: “Companies do not have feelings, yet wealthy corporations routinely use the libel laws to silence any criticism, however slight.  It is reasonable to ask companies to show financial loss before they sue.  It is bizarre that the Government may not countenance even this modest restraint on corporations.”

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