Singh: Libel bill would bring us into line with rest of world

Author and journalist Simon Singh has given his support to Lord Lester’s Defamation Bill.

The bill was introduced into the House of Lords last week and significantly bolsters the libel defences available to publishers.

Singh was victorious in April after a two-year-fight with the British Chiropractic Association which he accused in a Guardian article of making false claims about the benefits of chiropractic medicine.

Singh told Press Gazette: “You can reform the libel laws in lots of different ways. I think that Lord Lester’s bill is absolutely fine and commendable. He knows about reforming laws and getting bills through parliament and he has done in-depth analysis on this.

“He has come up with a package of solutions that really would put us back in line with the rest of the world in terms of free speech.”

Singh fought his case at his own expense, because The Guardian’s legal advice was to settle. He said that even though he won, the case had taken up the equivalent of 45-week’s full-time work and cost him at least £25,000. If he had lost he would of stood to lose more than £1m.

Asked whether he now regrets making his stand, he said: “If you’d asked me that three months ago I’m not sure what I would have said. There were some very dark times when it looked like I would lose a lot money, my reputation and time having put my family and friends through similar levels of stress that I was going through. There were times when I thought this was a complete waste of my time and money.

“It shouldn’t be so difficult to answer what isn’t the most complicated question in the world. If we can reform the libel law it will have been absolutely worthwhile.”

The Lib-Con coalition Government has promised to reform the libel law, but Lord Lester’s bill is a separate measure tabled independently.

His bill would:

  • Introduce a statutory defence of responsible publication on a matter of public interest;
  • Clarify the defences of justification and fair comment, renamed as ‘truth’ and ‘honest opinion’;
  • Respond to the problems of the internet age, including multiple publications and the responsibility of Internet Service Providers and hosters;
  • Protect those reporting on proceedings in Parliament and other issues of public concern;
  • Require claimants to show substantial harm, and corporate bodies to show financial loss;
  • Encourage the speedy settlement of disputes without recourse to costly litigation.

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