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 Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings