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‘Overhaul of libel law desperately needed’ says parliament

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A report by the government’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee (CMS) has called for the biggest reform in libel laws seen in a generation, to dampen the effects of ‘libel tourism’ and safeguard the nation’s right to free speech.

After an 18 month investigation, the Committee has deemed UK libel laws far too accommodating of overseas litigants. The rise in ‘libel tourism’ has marginalised the press and the Committee believes burden of proof in libel and defamation cases should lie with claimants in the future.

Currently, the burden of proof rests on the defendant, who must establish what has been reported is true, as opposed to the United States, where the party bringing the case must prove that it is false, resulting in the rise of ‘libel tourism’.

But, in its report the Committee said that, when Britain was not the main place of residence or business of a claimant or defendant, the claimant should have to do more to justify bringing it to the country’s courts.

“It should be a matter of profound concern that the U.K. is now regarded as the jurisdiction of choice for litigants to bring libel actions, even when there is no obvious connection with this country,” said Committee Chairman, John Whittingdale, in a statement.

After the rise in injunctions and gagging orders, made famous by recent Trafigura and John Terry cases, the Committee claims much more should be done to dampen the effects of such ‘draconian’ powers, damaging the public’s right to parliamentary clarity and issues of public interest.

The Committee’s suggestions have been embraced by campaigners and MPs alike, disgruntled with the current ‘farcical’ state of Britain’s libel legislation.

The Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, who is chairman of the Parliamentary Campaign for Libel Reform, said: “The coalition of writers, academics, scientists and performers calling for change has now been joined by parliamentarians, and the momentum in favour of reforming our libel laws seems unstoppable.”

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Written by Andrew Hodges

March 8, 2010 at 11:35 am

Posted in Comment, LinkedIn

Tagged with , ,

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