9th July 2010: Government announces libel reform Bill

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Watch the second reading debate of Lord Lester of Herne Hill's Private Member's Defamation Bill from the House of Lords, where the Government made the announcement here.

Justice Minister Lord McNally announced during the second reading debate of Lord Lester of Herne Hill's Private Members Defamation Bill that the Government will publish a Bill to reform the libel laws early in the new year. It will focus on freedom of speech and protection of public interest debate. McNally stated the Government is firmly committed to legislation on a statutory public interest defense and the multiple publication rule. He said the Government has "a firm commitment to action."

The Libel Reform Campaign, reports from the Ministry of Justice and the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee and senior judiciary have made the case for reform clear. The laws as they stand are unfair, unduly costly, out of date and against the public interest.

  • 90% of libel cases in England and Wales are won by claimants

  • Taking a case here costs 140 times the European average

  • The multiple publication rule dating from 1849 means online writers and archives are vulnerable to libel threats

  • In a survey of GPs, half said they do not discuss drug safety because of fear of a libel suit

John Kampfner, CEO Index on Censorship said: "Today the government listened to the 52,000 people who backed the English PEN, Index on Censorship and Sense About Science campaign to redesign our libel laws and have committed, for the first time in a century, to wholesale reform. We are delighted, but obviously we'll need to see how bold the government will be - they must stop libel tourism, cut the obscene legal costs involved and give cast iron protections to free speech."

Jonathan Heawood, English PEN said: "Until the Libel Reform Bill is actually passed, the right to free speech in this country will be conditional on writers or scientists having deep pockets or a willingness to fight for years through the Courts. It should no longer be a matter for judges but Parliamentarians should decide on how we balance free expression and reputation."

Tracey Brown, Sense About Science said: "Lord Lester's Bill is the first time in over a century that there has been a case for fundamental reform before Parliament. We are delighted that the Government has responded. The Libel Reform Campaign, supported by over 50,000 people and many leading commentators, will continue doing all we can to ensure that the Minister's response to the debate today is translated into meaningful change in the lives of bloggers, science writer, NGOs and small publications facing threats and bankruptcy under the current laws."

Science writer Simon Singh, who was sued for libel in 2008 said: "Today's Government's commitment to change the law by the next parliament will be welcomed by everyone who currently feels gagged by the libel law, including doctors, science journalists and academic journals. Honest and hardworking writers currently face ruin if they dare defend themselves from threats of libel action, because the libel law is so complicated, costly and unfair. Hence, those who have important information, criticisms and concerns don't dare to publish and are silenced. Today the Government appeared to recognise the problem and in particular made a solid commitment to a public interest defence."

Press Coverage:

The Guardian Libel law reform bill pledge

The BBC Government announces review of libel laws

The Independent Libel law reform to protect free expression

The Independent Government promises reform of libel laws

The Telegraph Britain's 'draconian' libel laws to be reformed

The Daily Mail New libel laws to protect freedom of the Press

Nature blog UK government promises to reform libel laws

journalism.co.uk Government to lead libel reform with new Defamation Bill

politics.co.uk Libel reform coming 'by the autumn'

Press Gazette Defamation Bill: Delight as Government indicates support