A new law comprehensively reforming libel in England and Wales will receive the royal assent by the end of 2012, the Society of Editors Conference heard today.
Chief executive of Index on Censorship John Kampfner said he is convinced that the Libel Reform Bill, due to be introduced in March 2011, will pass into law by the end of the following year.
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And he said he was confident the new law would include: a new defence of responsible journalism, ‘a beefed-up version of the Reynolds Defence”; a new fair comment defence; a single publication rule ending the practice whereby every time a web story is downloaded it is seen as a fresh publication; action on the excessive fees charged under Conditional Fee Agreements; and some exemptions whereby corporations cannot sue for libel.
He said that this new legislation would finally reform ‘one of the most hideous and restrictive pieces of jurispudence in the democratic world”.
Kampfner said the potential cost of fighting libel cases was having a huge chilling effect on British journalism.
He said he had spoken to one Fleet Street journalist, whose managing editor had told him: ”Lay off the oligarchs, it’s just not worth it – we can’t go through with it.'”
Kampfner said: “It’s not what is written and ends up in court, it’s what is not written because of the legal practices we are encumbered with.”
Index on Censorship has been at the forefront of the Libel Reform Campaign, which has so far attracted more than 50,000 signatures to an online petition calling for action on this issue.
Last week leader of the House of Commons Sir George Young issued an assurance that a bill to reform libel would be introduced in the current Parliament.