LibLink..Lord Lester QC: Five days to save free speech

Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Lester writes in today’s Sun about amendments which could derail the long awaited reform of England’s libel laws. He says that Labour’s Lord Puttnam is leading attempts to introduce a “draconian version” of the Leveson proposals. He warns that if these amendments are passed, the whole attempt at libel reform could fall when the Bill reaches the Commons.

First, he set out  what the Bill is trying to do:

The Bill creates a Serious Harm Test to prevent frivolous claims. It makes user-friendly the defences of honest opinion, truth and qualified privilege, and introduces an important public interest defence. It creates rules for the internet and abolishes the presumption of a trial by jury in libel cases.

Judges are working to modernise court procedures so libel claims are decided quickly, with a level playing field for the rich and not-so-rich.

It is a charter not for the Press but for the public, for whom the Press is public watchdog.

Then he describes the problems with the Puttnam amendments:

They try to force politicians and the Press to come to a compromise. The aim is well-intentioned but would violate our human rights and freedoms.

Max Mosley failed to persuade our courts, or the European Court of Human Rights, to adopt a rule making it easy for victims of media intrusion to get a gagging order against publication.

The Puttnam amendments propose to build such a requirement within an arbitration scheme, paid for by the Press and underpinned by threat of punitive damages inflicted on those who refuse to join and obey.

He likens the overall effect as “burning the house to roast the pig.”

You can read the article in full here.

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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5 Comments

  • Richard Dean 20th Feb '13 - 12:54pm

    It’s interesting that Lord Lester’s article appears in the Sun, which is one of the papers that will probably be most affected by being gagged. Which clauses in the bill are being complained about? The thing that strikes me most is something that Lester appears to be okay with – abolition of trial by jury.

  • Tony Greaves 20th Feb '13 - 2:20pm

    This seems odd. I thought the Puttnam amendment has already been passed by the Lords with most Liberal Demcrats abstaining (as recommended by our Whips as the amendmnet was thought helpful). The amendment was passed by about 2 to 1. Five LDs voted for it. The payroll vote voted with the government according to convention but only five others voted against Including Lord Lester). Between 40 and 50 LDs (including me) abstained while present in and around the House.

    What Lord Lester is doing writing in the Sun is a matter for him.

    Tony Greaves

  • Richard – this is about the only area of Civil law where juries are still involved. (It might be the only one but I’ve got a very vague memory of something really obscure where you can also have a jury)

  • Tony Dawson 20th Feb '13 - 9:14pm

    @Hywel:

    ” this is about the only area of Civil law where juries are still involved”

    Something to do with man’s (sic!) reputation being as important as his liberty – hence not to be tarnished without the consent of his peers? :-(

  • In fact juries can be used in civil cases of the following sorts:

    – a claim of fraud against the party; or
    – a claim in respect of libel, slander, malicious prosecution or false imprisonment
    Senior Courts Act 1981 section 69(1).

    That is, unless the Justice and Security Bill is passed, when juries will be scrapped for these cases which involve national security sensitive information. In other words false imprisonment (kidnap) cases would not be able to involve a jury if the government did not want them to. Yet another reason to defeat the Bill.

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