As you may be aware, the new defences in the Defamation Act have been blocked from being extended to Northern Ireland. DUP minister Sammy Wilson said our demands for reform were “nonsense” and refused to consider any change.
This undeniably leaves the people of Northern Ireland with fewer free speech rights than other citizens in the UK. Even worse: this unexpected decision has created a loophole in the law. Libel lawyers have already begun touting Belfast to potential litigants as a claimant friendly jurisdiction. This creates uncertainty and confusion for journalists and publishers throughout the United Kingdom.
Mr Wilson’s successor as Minister of Finance and Personnel has since referred the matter to the Northern Ireland Law Commission. This is positive step... but the Commission’s review process could take years. It’s clear that the political elites in Northern Ireland want to ignore this issue. But while they delay, the entire United Kingdom is stuck with a confusing, two-tier libel law that the rich bullies can’t wait to exploit.
It looks like we’ll have to break the consensus. Again.
We need your help to mobilise civil society in Northern Ireland to demand libel reform. The campaign already has hundreds of supporters in the province, but we need more if we want Assembly Members to take notice and sort this out. To do that we need to spend time and money on public events and campaigning materials. We’re confident that the more people we reach, the more people will back reform.
Will you make a donation to the Libel Reform Campaign’s 2014 appeal? If everyone who signed the campaign petition donated just £5 we would have enough to campaign on this issue for the rest of the year, and beyond. Of course, if you can spare a little more than £5 that would be even better! Everything helps.
The Libel Reform Campaign and the MPs and Peers who led the campaign in the Houses of Parliament have always called for laws that would mean libel cases get resolved as quickly and cheaply as possible. We called for mandatory strike out of trivial libel claims to be part of the Defamation Act. Strike out is when a court looks at a claim, decides there is no case to answer and therefore doesn’t allow the case to proceed or throws the case out. It did not make it into the Act. The Alternative Libel Project called for Alternaitive Dispute Resolutuion (ADR) to be part of the law, but that didn't make it in. The Minister for Justice Lord McNally told us that this is because power to strike out claims and to encourage the use of ADR already exist in the Civil Procedure Rules, the rules for judges on how cases must be handled. He asked the Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson to respond to our calls. Lord Dyson said today that "there alredy exists a formidable array of powers which judges can use to achieve these goals" and that early resolution of every lilbel case should always be a judge's aim. Read the Master of the Rolls’ statement here.
The Master of the Rolls is the second most senior judge in England and Wales and is the Head of Civil Justice. Defamation law is part of civil law. The new libel laws came into effect on New Year’s Day.
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