Sense about Science ? equipping people to make sense of science and evidence
The deadline for you to help shape Britain’s libel laws is approaching.
Can you write to Government and help show parliamentarians and law-makers the clamour for reform?
The Government published its draft bill in March, and this is now being scrutinised by both a parliamentary committee and also by the Ministry of Justice. After this more work will be done to redraft the bill. The scrutiny committee has repeatedly stated that they want to hear stories and evidence from a wide range of people. They urgently need to be made aware of the widespread public support for reform before their deadline of 10th June.
Can you write to Government to set out any experiences you have had and why you think libel reform is important?
Whilst we are pleased we have a draft of the first wholesale bill since 1843, it doesn’t yet deliver the substantial changes we need. There are four vital areas where the draft bill falls short:
- Serious and substantial harm test. The bill has a proposal that there should be a test of harm before a case can go to court. We think this is a great idea, but the test needs strengthening to make sure that anyone threatened with libel will have the confidence to stand up to bullying and trivial claims.
- The public interest defence. The draft does little to address the uncertainties that currently surround using a public interest defence, and the demands it makes to demonstrate ‘responsibility’ are impractical for most writers, scientists and NGOs. We believe this could be easily addressed for writing that is on public interest matters by shifting the burden of proof to the claimant to prove the defendant acted recklessly or with malice.
- The nature of digital publication. The draft does not tackle the problem that online intermediaries, such as web-hosts, which are neither authors nor traditional publishers, are forced to censor material for fear of liability. Currently a threat to intermediaries often results in blogs or scientific papers being taken down from websites, because the intermediary has no way of knowing the facts of the matter. We want to see a system that requires claimants to contact the primary author first, before intermediaries can be asked to take material down.
- The prevention of corporations from suing for libel. Companies currently use the threat of a libel action to manage their brand and to close down criticisms of their products and behaviour. This is legal bullying and there are other ways companies can respond to criticism they think is unfair.
Please write to them to let them know your experiences and your views on the draft bill. We need to show them that the public is behind our proposals, or we will lose this once-in-a-generation chance to make our libel laws fit for purpose.
The committee has set out a list of questions here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/joint-select/draft-defamation-bill1/news/call-for-evidence/; you can respond to some or all of those, or write your submission in your own way. You can see the Libel Reform Campaign’s submission at www.libelreform.org/news. You can email your evidence to: email@example.com.