LibCon coalition promises FoI extension and libel review

The Liberal-Conservative coalition Government has placed action on libel and Freedom of Information on its initial list of policy commitments released yesterday.

The coalition agreement states: “The parties agree to implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour Government and roll back state intrusion.”

Amongst those measures are assurances that the new Government will extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act “to provide greater transparency” and review libel laws to protect freedom of speech.

The promise of a review of libel laws was expected as it was an assurance made by each of the leading parties in the build up to the Election – however, it doesn’t go as far as the commitment made in the Liberal Democrat manifesto to place the burden of proof back onto the claimant in certain libel cases.

The Lib Dems had vowed to “protect free speech, investigative journalism and academic peer-review publishing” by requiring corporations to show damage and prove malice or recklessness in libel cases.

They also promised that investigative journalism would be protected through a new “responsible journalism defence”.

The Conservatives pledged in their manifesto that any review of libel would look to “protect freedom of speech, reduce costs and discourage libel tourism”.

A planned extension of the Freedom of Information Act to cover four more bodies is already set to come into force next year.

From October, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), the Academy Trusts, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) will be opened up to greater public scrutiny.

The promise by the new LibCon coalition to further extent FoI comes after the previous government said it would instigate a new consultation to consider extending the reach of FoI to include bodies such as Network Rail and utility companies.

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