Last chance to have your say on draft Defamation Bill

Consultation on the biggest shake-up of UK libel laws in a generation closes on Friday and justice minister Lord McNally has urged those who have yet to respond to the consultation to do so.

The huge cost of defending libel actions, the burden of proof being on publishers and the lack of libel defences for journalism in the public interest have all been a massive source of criticism from journalists for many years. This could be a once in a generation chance to change the system to improve press freedom in the UK.

Lord McNally said in a statement:

There is no doubt that the law in this area is out of date.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:

  • A new ‘public interest’ defence.
  • A requirement for claimants to demonstrate substantial harm.
  • Action to curb ‘libel tourism’.
  • A single publication rule for online stories.
Not included in the bill, but in the consultation paper, are proposals for court procedures to cut the costs of fighting libel actions.

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