Tag Archives: libel reform

‘The media shouldn’t be able to trash reputations in the heat of the moment’: BBC’s Kevin Marsh on libel reform

Kevin Marsh from the BBC College of Journalism has a thought-provoking blog post on Lord Lester’s libel bill, asking whether the public’s voice is loud enough to be heard in the debate.

Analysing the main changes in the private member’s bill, Marsh says it “tackles some of the current laws’ deficiencies head on” but “body swerves others”.

Biggest swerve is that this bill doesn’t do what many newspapers and freedom of information campaigners wanted – reverse the burden of proof (…) On the other hand, the bill proposes that, unless it’s decided otherwise, a libel action should be heard by a judge sitting without a jury.

But his biggest concern is that public views may not be as easily heard as the media’s.

Isn’t there the possibility, at the very least, that those who have no self-interest in all of this believe that that ‘chilling effect’ is no bad thing; that the media shouldn’t be able to trash reputations in the heat of the journalistic moment; and that the possibility/threat of legal sanction might, in the wider public interest, possibly do more good than harm?

Full post at this link…

William Bennett on libel reform: ‘The real crux of the problem is not the law but the excessive costs of deploying it’

As promised earlier this week, the Inforrm blog continues to offer challenging discussion around the arguments posed by the Libel Reform campaign. Here, it reproduces an article by William Bennett, barrister at 5RB, that originally appeared in the Solicitor’s Journal.

“Think again: the recent campaign for libel reform is not based on careful consideration,” he argues.

The real crux of the problem is not the law but the excessive costs of deploying it – and Parliament should abolish the right to jury trials in defamation. Such reform, particularly if implemented in conjunction with the proposals set out in Lord Justice Jackson’s recent review of civil litigation costs, would dramatically cut the cost of defamation litigation. In turn this would promote freedom of speech in a way which would not compromise the rights of those defamed.

Disclaimer: Journalism.co.uk has pledged its support to the Libel Reform campaign and is listed as a supporter.

Press Gazette: Libel reform and FOI on LibCon agenda

The new Liberal-Conservative coalition government in the UK has made assurances that it will extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act and review libel laws.

Libel reform has been the subject of an ongoing campaign by Index of Censorship and English PEN. All three main political parties pledged their support for reforming current libel legislation before the election, but there were concerns that a change in government could threaten the campaign’s progress.

Says the report:

The promise of a review of libel laws was expected as it was an assurance made by each of the leading parties in the build up to the election – however, it doesn’t go as far as the commitment made in the Liberal Democrat manifesto to place the burden of proof back onto the claimant in certain libel cases.

Full story at this link…

Times Online: Latest cases on the London libel trail

The Times has a good round-up of recent libel cases, including that involving a British freelance journalist, who “will appear in the High Court to defend a libel claim being brought by an Indian ‘holy man'”.

The case will be the latest test of libel tourism: Jeet Singh is an Indian national who lives in India and is thought never to have visited Britain.

The case is also the latest in a flurry of recent activity on the libel front: today there will be a ruling with wide implications for bloggers and online media.

Full story at this link…

Index on Censorship: Conservatives pledge support to libel reform campaign

The Conservative party has joined Labour and the Liberal Democrats in pledging support to the Libel Reform Campaign, a coalition led by Index on Censorship, English PEN and Sense About Science.

Conservative shadow justice secretary, Dominic Grieve, said:

The Conservative party is committed, if elected, to undertaking a fundamental review of the libel laws with a view to enacting legislation to reform them. This reform could best be done by means of a separate Libel Bill and this is the preferred approach for us.

The Libel Reform campaign “is believed to be the first campaign by an NGO this year to get a manifesto commitment from all three major parties,” reports Index on Censorship.

Full post at this link…

Disclaimer: Journalism.co.uk has also pledged its support to the libel reform campaign.

Hear the Libel Reform Campaign’s Michael Harris talk about how he built the online buzz around this issue at Journalism.co.uk’s upcoming news:rewired event, on 25 June 2010 in London.

Journalism.co.uk backs Libel Reform Campaign

Journalism.co.uk has pledged its support to the Libel Reform Campaign, run by Index on Censorship, Sense About Science and English PEN to overhaul current legislation, bringing in a new bill that caps libel case fees for lawyers and addresses the impact of online publishing on libel.

Freedom to criticise and question, in strong terms and without malice, is the cornerstone of argument and debate, whether in scholarly journals, on websites, in newspapers or elsewhere. Our current libel laws inhibit debate and stifle free expression. They discourage writers from tackling important subjects and thereby deny us the right to read about them.

Our pledge:

As a small, online publisher, we are acutely aware of the ‘chilling effect’ that current libel legislation and the excessive cost of libel trials in the UK can have on freedom of expression and journalism. We support the Libel Reform Campaign and the changes it proposes, which advocate journalists’ right to criticise and question those in power and positions of influence.

The petition can be signed at this link.

Some of the listed supporters:

Liberal Conspiracy: Why Tom Watson opposed libel costs reform

MP Tom Watson yesterday was criticised for his opposition to libel cost reform.

As reported by PA Mediapoint, Labour MPs voted against reform proposals to reduce libel success fees (conditional fee arrangements) from 100 to 10 per cent. Watson was among them.

He outlines his reasons for his vote, here, on Liberal Conspiracy.

But his critics are not satisfied. Jack of Kent, aka Allen Green, a legal blogger currently longlisted for the Orwell Prize, shared his take on Conditional Fee Arrangements here.

Under Watson’s piece he writes:

The crucial statement in this blogpost is “it could significantly reduce the chances of people receiving justice”.

There is no evidence put forward in this blogpost to substantiate that claim.

Evan Harris MP: ‘Missing ingredient’ in Jack Straw’s libel reform support

Writing underneath Marcel Berlin’s Guardian commentary on Jack Straw’s pledge of support for libel reform, Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris suggests that the main “missing ingredient” is a commitment to limit big companies suing in libel:

…They should only have malicious falsehood where they must prove malice or recklessness and show actual damage. Trafigura, Tesco, Barclays, BCA, NMT, Nemsysco, etc, etc. The Lib Dems are proposing this in addition to the other measures and not tentatively!

Berlins had argued that Straw’s backing of the case for libel reform was not strong enough, especially on who should have the burden of proof.

[T]here’s no word from Straw – not even “consider” – about one of the most unjust aspects of the existing law, which obliges a newspaper raising the defence that its allegations were true to prove it, instead of making the claimant prove their falsity. That burden of proof, in fairness, should be reversed.

Full post at this link…

Disclaimer: Journalism.co.uk has pledged its support to the Libel Reform campaign.

Shadow justice minister says libel reform issue would be a ‘priority’ for a Tory government

The Libel Reform campaign, a coalition of Sense About Science, Index on Censorship and English PEN, yesterday said it had one major political party left to get on side: the Conservatives.

But following justice minister Jack Straw’s pledge of Labour support in parliament yesterday, Henry Bellingham, the Conservative shadow justice minister, said that if his party formed the next government they would give the issue priority – with a draft Bill by the end of 2010, according to the latest email update from the campaign.

“He indicated that the Law Commission would be asked to report urgently on necessary. The commitment to legislation from Bellingham is a major milestone,” the campaign’s organisers reported today.

Left: Jack Straw speaking to campaigners in Parliament yesterday (English PEN on Flickr).

Disclaimer: Journalism.co.uk has pledged its support to the Libel Reform campaign.

British Journalism Review: Calls for libel law reform are misguided

Investigative journalist Bruce Page assesses calls for libel law reform and finds that they might be misguided, in his view.

“Journalism is intended to be harmful and journalists who don’t like risk should go elsewhere.”

One of the problems is that journalism spends too much time on “insubstantial doomsday scenarios” and not enough developing knowledge to expose “self-defamatory” claims, in science for example.

Making it easier for nervous people to publish accusations isn’t going to change any of that. Lawsuit economics still give excessive advantage to wealth and power. Introducing no-win-no-fee litigation has reduced that old abuse – and brought some fresh ones into play. Let’s reform them. But the law itself isn’t broke. Don’t fix it.

Full post at this link…