Very few of the new defences available in the Defamation Act 2013 have been extended to Scotland. Working in collaboration with journalists, academics and lawyers in Scotland, the Libel Reform Campaign is seeking to ensure that Edinburgh does not become a new haven for libel tourism."
We have an urgent opportunity to make a real difference to libel laws in Scotland by contacting the Scottish Law Commission by this Thursday, 31st August.
The SLC has published a working draft of a bill to reform defamation law in Scotland. This comes after hundreds of you joined us in writing to the SLC in June last year urging them to recommend substantive reform.
And they have. The draft bill contains many of the things we fought hard for with the Defamation Act 2013. But there are some crucial weaknesses: the public interest defence is weaker than in the Defamation Act 2013 and corporations would still have the right to sue.
We'll be telling them:
It is fantastic to see:
- The inclusion of the serious harm test (section 1(2)(b)).
- A single publication rule (section 30(3)) - meaning that the time limit for bringing defamation claims is not reset every time a publication is shared, for instance by retweeting.
- The reduction of the time limit for bringing proceedings to one year (section 30(2)(b)).
- The Derbyshire principle (section 2), which prevents public bodies from bringing actions for defamation, gain statutory footing.
- The introduction of a public interest defence (section 6).
However, as the draft stands:
- The public interest defence is weaker than in the Defamation Act 2013. The public interest defence is new to Scots law, so it's fantastic to see its introduction, but it must be robust.
- Corporations would still have the right to sue. Defamation law was designed to protect the rights of individuals: corporate bodies do not have a private life, personal identity or psychological integrity. Corporations also have other means to defend themselves, such as malicious falsehood and laws governing advertising, competition and business practices - they do not need protection under defamation law.
Defamation law in Scotland needs to be as strong - or stronger - than the Defamation Act 2013. We cannot support a law for Scotland that doesn't meet at least that standard.
Will you write to the SLC today with your views? A short note like the above is all it would take and will make a real difference.
The Libel Reform Campaign has submitted a detailed response to the Scottish Law Commission's consultation on the law of defamation.
— A public interest defence must be introduced into Scots Law
— A 'serious harm' test to discourage trivial and vexatious claims
— A 'single publication rule' and a revision on limitation periods for when pursuers can sue
— For-profit companies and other 'non-natural persons' should not be able to sue for defamation. If corporations are allowed to sue, that they should have to show financial loss before bringing a claim
— The Derbyshire case law that prevents public bodies from suing citizens for defamation should be put into statute
— A jurisidictional test to discourage 'libel tourism'
— Defences of truth and honest opinion should be set out clearly in statute
— The fair retort' defence should remain in Scots Law
— Alternative methods of dispute resolution should be incorporated into any reform
— Communication to a third party must be a requisite for a defamation action to be brought
— Qualified privilege should be extended to the reporting of international legislatures, courts and tribunals
— A presumption against expensive jury trials in defamation cases
The Scottish Law Commission's consultation on the Scots law of defamation closes on 17 June 2016. It is crucial that the law in Scotland is changed so that the new protections enjoyed by people in England & Wales, such as the 'serious harm' test, a public interest defence, and the measures to stop libel tourism, can be extended to the people of Scotland.
people have signed up
The Defamation Act 2013 must be extended to Scotland. Can you join us in Edinburgh on Thursday 17th July at 5 pm?
As you know, the Libel Reform Campaign led to the Defamation Act 2013 which introduced significant changes to the law of libel in England & Wales. The law now includes a 'serious harm' test, a new public interest defence, protections for web hosts, privilege for peer reviewed academic papers. Together, these reforms should expand the space for free expression in England & Wales.
Unfortunately, very few of these new provisions have been incorporated into Scottish law. This has left the people of Scotland with fewer free speech protections than their neighbours in England & Wales. We fear that this will result in the practice of libel tourism shifting from London to Edinburgh. Since publishers operate throughout the UK, an unreformed Scottish law has the potential to chill free speech everywhere in the United Kingdom, undermining the Defamation Act.
We are bringing together lawyers, journalists, bloggers, academics, authors and members of civil society who would lke to be involved in a campaign to bring libel reform to Scotland. We want to gather examples of the libel 'chill' where journalists, consumer groups or scientists in Scotland have been discouraged from publishing on matters in the public interest. We would love to see as many of you as possible there.