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MPs raise concerns that Libel reforms ‘do not go far enough’

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A parliamentary committee has raised concerns that the proposed reforms to libel laws do not go far enough to protect free speech. In particular they believe further steps are required to prevent big corporations from using their strong financial position to gag opponents who threaten legal action.

The committee has been looking into the draft Defamation Bill which contains a number of proposals from the Government including ending trial by jury in libel cases except in the most serious cases. The committee has stated that many of the proposals are ‘worthwhile’ but have further added they are too ‘modest’ and more should be done to address the key issue of the ‘unacceptably high costs’ in defending defamation claims.

One suggestion which has been made by the committee is to make it compulsory for powerful corporations to first seek permission from the court before lodging a libel claim. It is hoped that this would prevent such corporations from using the threat of libel to silence critics. According to the committee these bullying tactics are a particular issue with scientists and academics who are prevented from publishing legitimate research due to the fear of a possible claim.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Lord Mawhinney chairs the committee and said: “Defamation proceedings are far too expensive, which is a barrier to all but the richest. Our recommendations should help minimise the reliance on expensive lawyers and the courts, bringing defamation action into the reach of ordinary people who find themselves needing to protect their reputation or defend their right to freedom of speech”

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Written by Andrew Hodges

October 25, 2011 at 10:19 am

Posted in Comment, LinkedIn, New Law

Tagged with ,

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