Tag Archives: lord lester

Lord Lester ‘not enthusiastic’ about privacy laws

Lord Lester today urged the newly-formed joint committee on the draft defamation bill not to try to tackle a privacy law within the legislation.

Giving oral evidence before the committee, where he praised the government’s draft bill, he said he was “not enthusiastic” about privacy law.

The one thing I would say to this committee is that if you want to kill defamation law reform you will start by going into privacy and saying that needs to be tackled in the same bill. Because I promise you the plan to have an actual bill come out next May and be enacted next year will not happen if you get involved in the thickets of privacy at the same time.

In a following discussion on the power to make decisions on a day-to-day basis on what becomes public knowledge, he added that he “strongly believed” in self-regulation.

That is why I continue notwithstanding in the Ministry of Justice’s draft that having regard to adherence to professional codes needs to be written into the responsible journalism defence to emphasise that the judgements are for the editor or reporter, not for the court … Judges are not editors, reporters and are not competent to act in place of editors and reporters.

The law therefore needs to encourage self regulation. The Press Complaints Commission needs to be able to give effective remedies to keep the courts away.

Ultimately I think that a free press is obviously essential to democracy and the judgements have to be made by the profession … you will notice that in all the fuss about injunctions, super injunctions and privacy, that is a fuss which is made very often by newspapers that earn a living by trading in publishing private information to the public and good luck to them, but if you take a newspaper which does serious investigative reporting … if you are a responsible profession and you then take advantage for example of my Reynolds defence you’ll be able to tackle that.

Jamaica’s libel reform proposals highlight issues ignored in England

The International Forum for Responsible Media blog has a post up on proposed libel law reforms in Jamaica.

As Inforrm points out, the current common law of libel in Jamaica is the same as that in England and Wales, offering an interesting comparison when looking at how their authorities have approached reform over the last three years.

The blog lists the recommendations made in 2007 by a committee assembled by the country’s prime minister to assess its defamation laws, from changes to the limitation period which would match it to English law and the introduction of a defence of ‘triviality’, to guidelines for the assessment of damages. But much like English libel law in recent times, the years have now passed with no actual reform yet to speak of.

A Joint Select Committee was set up to consider this report and has not yet reached any conclusion. The Media Association of Jamaica and the Press Association of Jamaica made joint submissions to this Committee which, in general, supported the recommendations but raised additional points on the capping of damages and a “wire services” defence.

The Small Report is interesting as it shows how another jurisdiction – with similar libel laws to those in England and Wales – has grappled with the problems of reform. It is particularly noteworthy that in Recommendations eight and nine it has directly confronted issues of “remedial reform” which are ignored by the Libel Reform Campaign and by Lord Lester’s Defamation Bill.

See the full post here…

Lord Lester’s Defamation Bill debate live on parliament website this morning

The second reading of Lord Lester’s Defamation Bill, which would introduce sweeping changes to current libel legislation in England and Wales, will take place at 10:00am today.

You can watch the debate live via the UK parliament website – Journalism.co.uk will be reporting what happens.

The bill, which received its first reading in front of parliament on 26 May, could offer greater protection for journalists covering parliamentary proceedings and seeks to update libel legislation in light of online publishing.

The bill proposes to:

  • Introduce a statutory defence of responsible publication on a matter of public interest;
  • Clarify the defences of justification and fair comment, renamed as ‘truth’ and ‘honest opinion’;
  • Respond to the problems of the internet age, including multiple publications and the responsibility of Internet Service Providers and hosters;
  • Protect those reporting on proceedings in parliament and other issues of public concern;
  • Require claimants to show substantial harm, and corporate bodies to show financial loss;
  • Encourage the speedy settlement of disputes without recourse to costly litigation.

“My main concern is with the chilling effect, where NGOs, regional newspapers and other more vulnerable publishers fear that they may get caught up in costly libel procedures. That is the main thing the bill is concerned with, to reduce or try to eliminate an unnecessary chilling effect,” Lord Lester told Journalism.co.uk in June.

Today’s reading, which is expected to last until lunchtime, will be debated by 22 peers, including a speech from Press Complaints Commission chair Baroness Peta Buscombe. A full list of those speaking can be seen on the Government Whips Office website.

The second reading is another step forward in the Libel Reform Campaign, led by Sense About Science, English PEN and Index on Censorship, which calls for extensive changes to existing libel legislation, in particular a reduction in costs for defendants.
Mike Harris, public affairs manager of the Libel Reform Campaign, told Journalism.co.uk:

Lord Lester’s Bill is the first attempt at wholesale reform of our libel laws in 70 years and provides a real opportunity to fundamentally rethink their purpose. The Libel Reform Campaign and our 52,000 supporters have made the case that reform is necessary – and that Parliament needs to take forward legislative changes rather than leaving the law to the subjectivity of judges. We hope that at the second reading debate Peers back Lord Lester’s Bill to open up a conversation about how we rebalance our laws to protect both free expression and reputation.

But some commentators who have been following the campaign’s efforts urge a note of caution about the likely progress of the bill. Blogger Jack of Kent (a.k.a. David Allen Green) told Journalism.co.uk why:

The Lord Lester Bill is good news, but only to an extent. It ranges widely, and so the debate in the Lords can also range widely. It contains some interesting proposals, especially on striking out and the capacity of corporations to sue.  However, the Bill has little chance of making any further progress, unless the government suddenly chooses to devote time and departmental resources in supporting it. The best we can realistically hope for is that a parliamentary committee is formed which can then seek to take the bill forward. Overall, I would put the chances of the Bill being enacted in full or in part by 2011 as under 50:50.

Jack of Kent: Could Lester’s libel reform bill fail to launch?

The excellent Jack of Kent blog asks if the reforms to libel legislation in England and Wales put forward by Lord Lester in May will be hindered by a lack of parliamentary resource and time.

The bill, which would expand the fair comment defence and reform the law to better reflect online publications, will have its second reading in the House of Lords on 9 July. But, says Jack of Kent’s author David Allen Green:

The coalition government has not committed itself to any parliamentary time for libel reform in the current legislative session, a session which could last until November 2011; similarly the Ministry of Justice has not committed any departmental resources to putting a bill through parliament.


However, if the bill which does go forward from the debate on 9 July 2010 is not actually a good bill then it may be that such a ‘fail’ is not really a problem, and the libel reform campaign should look forward to the 2011-2012 session.

Full post at this link…

Related reading: The BBC College of Journalism’s Kevin Marsh on libel reform and whether the public’s voice is being heard in the debate.

‘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…