Simon Singh writes to MPs about critical amendments to the Defamation Bill

House of Lords amendments to the Defamation Bill will be discussed in the House of Commons on Tuesday 16th April. I and the 60,000 supporters of the Libel Reform Campaign believe this is a once in a generation opportunity for legislation that protects both reputation and freedom of expression. We support a clearer, stronger public interest defence (amendment tabled by Sir Peter Bottomley MP with support from Paul Farrelly MP) and strongly oppose any motion to reject Lords amendment 2 restricting companies from suing individuals for libel.

Public Interest Defence

House of Lords amendments 3-7 and amendment tabled by Sir Peter Bottomley MP House of Lords amendments 3 – 7 will introduce a new public interest defence. The new defence will be a significant improvement on the current complex and unpredictable law. I urge you to accept Lords amendments 3 – 7. But, the new public interest defence’s test of whether a defendant “reasonably believed” that publishing the material complained of was in the public interest is likely to lead to prolonged and costly argument about a defendant’s state of mind. It leaves the door open for judges to revert to the current law and import the checklist of factors that make the current common law public interest defence unusable for most defendants. The amendment tabled by Sir Peter Bottomley changes the defence to ask the defendant to show that he “reasonably decided.” This small change of wording will add clarity and protection against protracted litigation. It will give the community groups, consumer watchdogs, scientists and authors who have been most affected by the laws more confidence about where they stand and therefore reduce the chilling effect of the current complex and expensive law. Proceedings, where they happen, will be quicker and cheaper. Please support the amendment tabled by Sir Peter Bottomley MP

Non-natural persons

House of Lords amendment 2 and amendment tabled by Sir Edward Garnier QC House of Lords amendment 2 would add a new clause to the Defamation Bill asking companies and other non-natural persons to show that they have suffered financial harm before they can bring a libel case against an individual. It is urgently needed to stop powerful vested interests using or threatening to use the libel laws to bully and chill critics rather than to pursue legitimate claims. It does not prevent corporations from gaining redress if they have suffered harm from a defamatory statement, it asks them to prove they have been harmed, or are likely to be harmed, before they can use the libel laws for redress. This new clause would also prevent private companies performing public functions from suing for libel which would bring them in line with restrictions already placed on public bodies. I urge you to accept Lords amendment 2. Edward Garnier’s amendment would prevent this clause from becoming part of the Defamation Bill. There is no justification for this. Rejecting this new clause will not help genuine corporate claimants, it will only help those who abuse the law by making spurious threats of damages and legal costs to silence critics, as happened to me, the cardiologist Peter Wilmshurst and countless others. Preventing this new clause will not help small companies, which easily show damage where it occurs and whose Directors can sue in person. I urge you not to support any motion which would prevent this new clause from becoming part of the Defamation Bill. Please get in touch with me or the Libel Reform Campaign to discuss any of this. Best wishes Simon Singh Defendant in BCA v Singh

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