Hopes are high that Defamation Bill will be in Wednesday's Queen's Speech

The Libel Reform Campaign has said it is confident the long-awaited Defamation Bill will be included in the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday.

According to the group, the bill is then expected to be tabled early in the next parliamentary session.

Hopes are high that the bill will tackle libel tourism, provide new defences for responsible journalism, stop the persecution of individuals for discussing matters in the public interest and include action to reduce the huge costs involved in the English libel system

In a press release the Libel Reform Campaign said:

The Libel Reform Campaign expects that a Defamation Bill will be announced in the Queen’s Speech and tabled early in the next Parliamentary session. The government published a draft Defamation Bill in March 2011, followed by its response to the Scrutiny Committee report on the draft Bill in February 2012. Both fall short of what is needed to reform England’s libel law. Over the coming weeks, the Libel Reform Campaign will continue to fight for:

A public interest defence that reduces the inhibition of free speech on discussion of matters in the public interest. The existing Reynolds defence has not been of practical use for authors, scientists, NGOs, and journalists. We need a new effective defence that protects the public interest so citizens can defend themselves unless the claimant can show they have been malicious or reckless.

A strong test of harm that reduces the chilling effect of trivial claims. We need a strong hurdle 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. Corporations have plenty of ways they can vindicate their reputations (including using malicious falsehood, through libel actions by individuals, using anti-competitive practice law, or obtaining a declaration of falsity), they do not suffer the psychological harm that individuals do. Companies’ ability to sue in libel should be restricted to cases where they can show both financial harm and malice/recklessness.

Provisions for online hosts and intermediaries. The law does not reflect the nature of 21st-century digital publication. Without tackling the role of online intermediaries, the law encourages private censorship by bodies which are neither authors nor traditional publishers. The Bill must be revised to allow judicial oversight of threatened libel actions against online hosts and intermediaries by requiring claimants to obtain a court order against a secondary publisher where the original author or publisher of a statement cannot be identified or contacted.

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