Steps forward in libel law reform

Posted on February 7, 2010

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Singh: spent thousands defending himself (Pic: Independent)

Most journalists await with anticipation news of libel law reform, and indeed what an incoming Conservative government might think about the current situation. The Sunday Times reported back in November that Lord Lester was drawing up a defamation reform bill to protect free speech and put an end to practices like libel tourism. It is clear that this can only be viewed as a good thing for journalism and the role it plays in a democratic society.

As Roy Greenslade has noted, this is all part of a growing consensus that something must be done to change the current law in the light of it being clearly abused in the last few years. Groups such as Index on Censorship and English PEN have called for libel reforms, while the government appears to be taking heed, if we are to believe Jack Straw’s remarks on the subject.

The Times has ruthlessly attacked the law as it stands in editorials, and there is certainly no reason why journalists cannot make the case for reform, given that it will be them that are better able to do their jobs should reform occur. Not only that, but by removing unfair obstacles to honest reporting, the people of this country will gain where previously only the rich and the powerful have done.

Even a partner at the now infamous Carter-Ruck law firm has criticised the prohibitively high cost of libel cases. In the past, the cost of fighting such a case has put newspapers off backing their reporters and allowed those with more money behind them to get away with abuses they would otherwise be pulled up for.

This is all music to the ears of journalists, especially those like Simon Singh who have become embroiled in high-profile and expensive libel battles. Watch this space.

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Posted in: Issues, Legal, Media, Politics