Writing on Libel Reform on Liberal Democrat Voice

Over the weekend, I wrote a short piece about the Defamation Bill for Liberal Democrat Voice, urging activists to lobby their party leadership.  The Defamation Bill is to be debated in the House of Commons today, so it is worth cross-posting this now, before the crucial votes render it obsolete!  This morning, Stephen Tall wrote a follow up post: ‘Lib Dems Libel Reform retreat points to a wider coalition problem‘.

There is a new threat to the Defamation Bill.
No sooner had the proposed law been liberated, after being taken hostage by Leveson negotiations, than Conservative MPs have begun messing with crucial free speech provisions.
Former libel lawyer Sir Edward Garnier MP has tabled an amendment seeking to remove a crucial clause from the Defamation Bill. The clause places some limits on corporations’ use of the libel laws. It does not bar them from suing entirely – just asks that they show financial loss before they do so. It’s an objective and measurable test for companies, who after all do not have feelings.
Such a law would have discouraged the crippling libel cases brought by Big Pharma against Dr Peter Wilmshurst and Dr Ben Goldacre. It would have helped Simon Singh. It would stop the costly ‘lawfare’ waged by the extractive industries around the world against human rights groups like Global Witness. It would stop scientists and doctors from having to decide whether to speak out for their patients and risk selling their house in order to pay legal fees… Or keep their mouths shut. Continue reading “Writing on Libel Reform on Liberal Democrat Voice”

Answering the McCann Question

Mark Pack asked me to write a guest piece for the Liberal Democrat Voice on Libel Reform. It was a good opportunity to dig a little deeper into the argument for reform, and rebutt one of the most common objections to making changes.

Free Speech is Not For SaleThe clamour for a change to our pernicious libel laws grows louder every day.  In November, Index on Censorship and English PEN published Free Speech is Not For Sale, a report into the state of libel in England & Wales, and the bizarre phenomenon of libel tourism.  Impressed by this report, Jack Straw announced the creation of a working group to deliver reform.  Lib Dem peer Lord Lester announced on the BBC Radio 4 PM programme he will begin drafting a libel bill, and MPs have begun to sign EDM 423 (tabled by Dr Evan Harris) which demands a libel overhaul.  High profile cases like the recent battle between Trafigura and the BBC, and the suing of cardiologist Peter Wilmshurst, have shown the general public what a blight on free speech our libel laws have become, and a petition for change is nearing ten thousand signatures (do sign it if you haven’t already).
Not everyone is convinced by the need for reform, however.  Some people resist the need for change, and it is up to campaigners to win the argument.  Since the Bournemouth conference made a brave manifesto commitment to libel reform in September, ‘campaigners’ now includes every Liberal Democrat party activist.  Liberal Democrat Voice is the ideal place to explore the sticking points of this debate a little more deeply. Continue reading “Answering the McCann Question”