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Libel law changes endorsed by House of Lords

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The House of Lords is expected to alter 700-year-old “anachronistic” libel laws that have increasingly criminalised free speech in the media.

The changes are to be debated as part of the Coroners and Justice Bill, which also contains guidance on assisted suicide and blasphemy, to be voted on in the House this week.

“The UK is committed to encouraging other countries to recognise and respect freedom of expression and the media must take the lead in abolishing out-of-date offences,” said a Ministry of Justice spokesperson.

The law dates back to 1275 and currently allow “extremely serious” libel and sedition cases to be prosecuted in the UK’s criminal courts. The disregard of such laws has been hailed by freedom of speech campaigners and legal representatives alike.

“This law is still used throughout the Commonwealth by representative governments to jail their opponents,” said experienced libel QC, Geoffrey Robertson. “Its abolition here ensures that those governments can no longer use the excuse that they are merely following British law.”

The bill will also tackle the highly contentious issue of blasphemous libel in Northern Ireland, where it remains a criminal offence to publish offensive remarks about the Christian church.

“God no more needs to be protected by criminal law in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain,” Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Lester QC, told The Guardian this week.

But campaign group, Article 19, have supported the government’s review of criminal laws, stating that the move will send a message to the world about Britain’s support of free speech.

“This will send a very strong and clear signal globally that democracies do not have criminal defamation laws,” said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of Article 19.

 

 

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Written by Andrew Hodges

November 1, 2009 at 1:13 am

Posted in LinkedIn, New Law

Tagged with , ,

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