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Libel reform to address ‘unbalanced defamation law’

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Defamation cases brought in front of the High Court increased by 11% last year and have further fuelled the ‘libel tourism’ conspiracy plaguing the nation’s courts.

Current research shows that defamation cases reached a four-year high in 2008, as 259 cases were heard. And, as more and more foreign claimants flood UK courts, confident that they will have an increased chance of winning under the country’s lapse libel laws, Justice Secretary Jack Straw has promised “wholesale reform”.

Mr Straw claims that the large legal penalties fees involved in defamation cases in English courts are jeopardising freedom of speech and halting effective debates amongst scientists, academics and journalists alike.

“A free press can’t operate or be effective unless it can offer readers comment as well as news,” said Mr Straw. “What concerns me is that the current arrangements are being used by big corporations to restrict fair comment, not always by journalists but also by academics.”

Recently, American newspapers, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe have warned that they may be forced to stop selling copies in the UK due to the high risk of court action.

Mr Straw has also vowed to challenge the ‘no-win no-fee’ deals offered to claimants, as he feels such deals ramp up the defence costs of media organisations and individuals.

“It is very important that citizens are able to take action for defamation if they are seriously defamed,” he added. “But no-win, no-fee arrangements have got out of hand. The system has become unbalanced.”

Further changes will see the burden of proof in libel cases move from the defendant to claimant, whilst the “single-publication rule”, whereby libel actions can only be launched against the original offending publication, will also come into force to limit multiple actions.

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Written by Andrew Hodges

December 14, 2009 at 8:39 pm

Posted in Comment, LinkedIn

Tagged with , ,

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