Libel reforms set to become law

A bill to reform the libel system in England and Wales is set to become law after completing its passage through the Houses of Parliament.

April 24, 2013

 

The Defamation Bill was approved by the House of Commons on 24 April following the passing of final amendments in the House of Lords on 23 April.

The campaign to reform libel laws began in 2009, with science writers, academics, and the editors of the journals Nature and the BMJ making up some of the most prominent advocates.

As well as updating the law for the internet age, campaigners say the bill – which will become the Defamation Act 2013 once it receives Royal Assent - will give a stronger public interest defence in libel claims and bolster protection for academic publications.

It is also hoped that the change will rebalance the power between big companies and individuals, reducing libel’s “chilling” self-censorship effect by forcing companies to prove financial damages in order to be able to apply to sue.

This crucial part of the bill – the requirement that companies demonstrate actual or likely substantial financial loss when they sue – was debated until the end.

After backing an amendment to remove the requirement from the bill in the Commons, the government later changed their stance and backed a similar requirement in the House of Lords, which was approved on 23 April.

However the Lords also voted to reject an amendment that would have barred corporations from suing in relation to their delivery of contracted public services. 

Jo Glanville, director of the free expression campaign group English PEN said that, taken together, the provisions in the law would mean “that there is a wider space for free expression”.

“We hope more people, whether they are investigative journalists, bloggers or NGOs, will be emboldened to speak truth to power as a result,” she added.

Cases that sparked the campaign, which garnered considerable public backing, included that of science writer Simon Singh. He was sued by the British Chiropractic Association for saying they “happily promote bogus treatments” in a 2008 article, a case they later dropped.

Cardiologist Peter Wilmhurst also became a cause celebre having been sued by US company NMT Medical for questioning the safety of one of its heart devices at an academic conference.

elizabeth.gibney@tsleducation.com

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Reader's comments (1)

What, now, will become of the wasteful six-figure cost lawsuit by Salford University against Gary Paul Duke? Having had the case already dismissed, the University has promised to appeal the matter. Will they throw more money at the case, or will this new law put a stop once and for all to their profligate spending of public resources?

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Worried man wiping forehead
Two academics explain how to beat some of the typical anxieties associated with a doctoral degree

Felipe Fernández-Armesto takes issue with a claim that the EU has been playing the sovereignty card in Brexit negotiations

John McEnroe arguing with umpire. Tennis

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman explain how to negotiate your annual performance and development review

Man throwing axes

UCU attacks plans to cut 171 posts, but university denies Brexit 'the reason'

Cricket player and umpire exchanging bribe

The need to accommodate foreign students undermines domestic practices, says Lincoln Allison, spying parallels between UK universities and global sports bodies such as Fifa