Defamation Bill
Email Campaign

I was very pleased when members from all parties of the House of Commons came together to reach a consensus on the Defamation Bill. However, when the Bill reached the Lords there were a few Opposition Party Lords who tabled so-called “wrecking” amendments to it. These amendments must now be considered by the House of Commons on 16th April.

A rebalancing of the law is needed to secure more effective protection for freedom of speech and to stop the threat of long and costly libel proceedings being used to stifle responsible investigative reporting and scientific and academic debate. At the same time, it is also important that people who have been unjustly defamed are not left without effective remedies where their reputation has been seriously harmed. The core aim in this Bill is to get the balance right.

With this in mind, the Bill does a great deal to support freedom of expression. It introduces a tougher ‘serious harm’ test to discourage trivial claims; brings in a single publication rule so a publisher can’t be repeatedly sued about the same material; takes action to address libel tourism and prevent claims being brought in the English courts by people with little connection to this country; and gives greater protection to website operators and other secondary publishers such as booksellers and newsagents.

The Bill also takes specific action to help encourage robust scientific and academic debate - both by creating a new defence against libel for peer-reviewed material in scientific and academic journals, and by extending qualified privilege to reports of scientific and academic conferences. Together, these measures will give much better protection and support for scientists and academics engaging in debate on issues of public importance.

The Bill aims to reduce the costs of fighting actions. It provides simpler and clearer defences to those accused of defamation and makes these more readily available outside mainstream media cases. This includes the creation of new statutory defences of honest opinion and truth to replace the existing common law defences. Similarly, it introduces a defence of responsible publication in the public interest.

This is a sensible and well balanced package that does a great deal for free speech whilst also ensuring people can protect their reputations. It should mean that debate on issues of public importance is able to thrive, while still providing appropriate remedies for those who have been defamed.

Both the Lords and Commons must agree on the final version of the Bill but I can assure you that the Government wants to see this Bill become law as soon as possible and I am fully supportive of its aims.

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