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Campaigners and Celebs tell MPs: Public interest should be at the heart of new defamation bill

What should a defamation bill contain?

10th March 2011

Authors, scientists and entertainers will today tell MPs why they should support reform of the arcane libel laws. The Government's draft defamation bill is imminent and Gillian Slovo, Jonathan Ross, Marcus Brigstocke, Nick Ross, Dr Ben Goldacre, Dave Gorman, Joan Bakewell, Professor Nancy Rothwell, AC Grayling and Shappi Khorsandi are urging parliamentarians to support the Libel Reform Campaign's blueprint for reform, calling for: 

  • easier 'strike out' of trivial or inappropriate claims 
  • more effective and clearer defences 
  • modernisation to accommodate the internet 
  • rebalancing of the law to protect the ordinary individual or responsible publisher 
  • an end to libel tourism 
  • corporations' right to sue individuals restricted

Bringing copies of the statement to parliament, author and President of English PEN Gillian Slovo reiterated: "We all believe that any individual whose reputation is damaged by a false and defamatory publication should have recourse to the law. But beyond that we need to protect freedom of expression and the rights of citizen critics, and to prevent powerful interests from shutting down discussion on matters in the public interest."

Download a copy of the statement

Download a copy of our new document What should a Defamation Bill contain

Jonathan Heawood, Director, English PEN: "Our libel laws have chilled free speech for too long. PEN's members have been calling for reform for more than 70 years. It's time to finish the job that EM Forster began in 1938. Our proposals protect free speech whilst preventing serious damage to an individual's reputation."

Tracey Brown, Managing Director, Sense About Science: "The breadth of support is indicative of concerns about the chilling effects on many different discussions. The current laws work best for bullies. The new law must work best for the citizen."

John Kampfner, Chief Executive, Index on Censorship: "One of our proposals is to rebalance the unlevel playing field when corporations sue individuals. Big companies have many ways in which they can get their message across, they should not be allowed to bully individual scientists, journalists or bloggers from criticising their products. Noisy imperfection in a society is far better to allow progress, than restricted debate."

Dr Evan Harris from the Libel Reform Campaign: "From writers to scientists and from journalists to editors, those who love free speech want next week's Government draft defamation bill to match the contents of our blue-print and if it fails to do so will be urging MPs and peers to amend it."

Simon Singh, science writer and libel defendant: "Scientists and science journalists who have been the victims of libel actions, including me, are anxious to see radical reform so that others do not have to suffer the same threats to their freedom of speech. As well as our right to discuss science and medicine openly, there is also the right of the public to hear the whole story, particularly if a medical treatment is ineffective or dangerous."

What should a defamation bill contain?

What should a defamation bill containThe Libel Reform Campaign document What should a defamation bill contain? will be launched in the House of Commons on Thursday 10th March 2011, 11.30am - 12.30pm in Committee Room 5. Members of the Libel Reform Campaign, John Kampfner, Index on Censorship, Jonathan Heawood, English PEN and Tracey Brown, Sense About Science, along with supporters of libel reform including Justine Roberts, Mumsnet; Martyn Hocking, Which?, Dr Philip Campbell, Nature; Simon Singh, science writer and libel defendant; Richard Allan, Facebook; Charmian Gooch, Global Witness; Eric Metcalfe, Justice; Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty UK; Peter Noorlander, Media Legal Defence Initiative; Sophie Farthing, Liberty and Dr Fiona Godlee, BMJ will call on parliamentarians to changes to the law to protect free expression and the citizen critic.

Coverage

The Telegraph, Celebrities will have to show harm to sue for libel
The Independent, Defamation Bill intended to kill off 'libel tourism'
The Telegraph, New rules to discourage 'libel tourism' in Britain
The Times, These disgraceful libel laws must be torn up (subscription required)
The Times, Blow for rich and powerful as ministers act on 'libel tourism' (subscription required)
The Times, New bill proposes end to 'libel tourism' (subscription required)
The Evening Standard, Reform the libel laws