Monday, May 24, 2010

Libel reform legislation in Britain a reality?

| »
British Libel Reform Campaign logo and slogan: “Free speech is not for sale”
British Libel Reform Campaign logo

Being a follower of the British Libel Reform Campaign that vies to change the way England’s libel laws currently operate (which is chillingly close to “presumed guilty until proven innocent”) and having subscribed to their mailing list, I was quite pleased to receive this news bulletin:

Dear friends

This is a very brief note to make sure you saw the exciting news that Lord Anthony Lester QC, the architect of the Human Rights Act, has announced his intention to introduce a Private Members’ Defamation Bill in the House of Lords this week. He explains why he is doing this in the Times this morning (read it here) and on the Today programme (listen to it here).

The legislation being proposed in Lord Lester’s Bill, and expected to be mentioned in the Queen’s Speech tomorrow, aims to solve the problems our campaign has highlighted and which politicians have been debating since 1938 without doing enough to solve them. This bill is the first attempt in a century at redrafting the laws to include stronger, clearer defences to protect free speech and to bring the laws up to date for the information age.

It’s thanks to your support of the campaign that the three main parties committed to libel reform in their election manifestos, and now we are near to having a bill in Parliament. We need to push the Government to tell us clearly what reforms it will support.

The bill will be published on Thursday 27th May. We will email you with more details but keep an eye out for other coverage on this in the meantime, for example Lord Lester will be interviewed on the Times website this afternoon and Simon Singh is writing about this for the Telegraph tomorrow.

I think those who supported this act and did what they could to promote it ought to give themselves a good pat on the back, though remember that the battle has still yet to be won for sure. But this is a very promising development that might just lead to better journalistic freedom.