Scotland to consult on 'libelling the dead'

The Scottish Government is to launch a consultation on whether it should consider changing the libel laws to ensure protection of the reputations of the dead.

The consultation is to be launched by the end of the year.

A spokesman at Scotland’s Justice Department said that the Government had no view on whether a change was necessary or desirable.

“We have said that we will still be a very, very long way away from changing the law on this,” he said.

The consultation move follows a long-running campaign by Margaret and James Watson, parents of 16-year-old Diane Watson, who was stabbed to death 20 years ago after a playground row at her Glasgow school.

The couple’s other child, 16-year-old Alan, later took his own life after reading an article which alleged that his sister was a bully.

The couple have been campaigning to ensure that murderers cannot profit from their crimes, for example by writing and publishing books about them.

The Justice Department spokesman added: “These are important and sensitive issues, involving a careful balancing of fundamental rights, and we are determined to take every care to ensure that they are addressed appropriately.

“Scottish ministers will examine the consultation responses carefully before issuing their response to it.”

But litigation solicitor David McKee told the BBC that there would have to be safeguards if there was to be any change in the law.

“My own experience is that, generally speaking, people’s reputations improve after death,” he said.

“Usually what you find is that when politicians die, all of a sudden their opponents are saying what lovely people they are. They didn’t say that when they were alive.

“But people do have this frustration that, all of a sudden, there is a freedom to defame after death.

“In defamation law, the difficulty is that if you make a statement or write a comment, the onus is on you to prove that’s true.”

He added: “There are time limits on personal injury cases of three years and I think that were this legislation to be introduced, there would have to be very strict parameters and very strict time limits of when a case could be introduced.”

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