Successes and challenges for the Libel Reform Campaign

As 2015 draws to a close, the Libel Reform Campaign is celebrating its successes and also looking ahead to new challenges.

The Defamation Act 2013 is making a positive impact and the law is working just as Parliament intended.  Recent judgments concerning the ‘serious harm’ test show that trivial claims are being discouraged.  Judges have affirmed the politicians’ intent that claimants have to prove they had been harmed or prove that harm will result in the future.  This is not an insurmountable hurdle for those with a genuine case, but lawyers tell us that it has resulted in fewer trivial claims being launched.  We campaigned hard for this measure and we’re delighted it is making a difference.

Libel tourism is being discouraged too.  In March, a claim was brought to the High Court in London by a Serbian citizen, against another Serbian citizen, over an article written in a Serbian newspaper... in Serbian.  But just last month, Mr Justice Tugendhat threw out the claim under section 9 of the Defamation Act.  Before the Act, these cases were routinely allowed in the High Court.  Now it looks as if they’re on the wane.

These developments are exactly what we had hoped for and mean we have a very strong hand as we take our campaign to Northern Ireland and Scotland, where the law has yet to be reformed.

In Scotland, calls for reform have been increasing.  In November, our colleagues at Scottish PEN published a letter co-signed by dozens of prominent Scottish writers including Ian Rankin, urging an update to the law:  ‘A modern and open nation like Scotland deserves a defamation law that is fit for purpose in the 21st century.’  The same month, The Herald, the world’s longest running national newspaper, launched its own campaign to reform the defamation laws in Scotland.

The Scottish Law Commission has already promised to review the law.  Lord Pentland, chair of the commission, is leading the review personally and has welcomed the public support for and interest in reform.  A major project for the Libel Reform Campaign in 2016 will be to make a submission to the Commission’s consultation and to build political awareness of this issue.  We will need your support to make this happen.

There is good news in Northern Ireland too.  The Law Commission ran a consultation on defamation in February, but its response was delayed when the commission itself was abolished as a cost-cutting measure.  However, we have heard that the Stormont Executive will finally be publishing the commission’s report, and we expect a draft Bill to be included, too.  In the New Year we’ll be continuing our campaign to ensure that Stormont Assembly members debate the issue and keep the process of reform moving.

The Libel Reform Campaign cannot work without the activism of our supporters.  Please continue boosting the #LibelReform signal on social media.  Thank you for your support.




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