Libel Reform Bill published

Earlier today, the government published its draft Libel Reform Bill. It’s an issue that Liberal Democrats, along with many others, have been campaigning on for a few years now and one on which Lib Dem minister at the Ministry of Justice Tom McNally has said his reputation should be judged on.

So it is good news for both our freedoms and Tom’s reputation that the Bill published today proposes major reforms and has met with a warm response, including:

Major changes to Britain’s antiquated defamation laws will be outlined by ministers today with the publication of a bill to provide greater protection for free speech and an end to “libel tourism”. (The Independent)

Three cheers for libel reform bill … Now, at last, we face the possibility of the libel law being genuinely reformed. (Roy Greenslade in The Guardian)

At first glance the content is encouraging. There is a “substantial harm test” and a “Reynolds” type public interest defence for responsible publications. There will also be curbs on “libel tourism” and an end to jury trials, unless the Court orders otherwise. And, at last, there will be a single publication rule, which means that a web page is not held to have been “published” each time it is downloaded. (David Allen Green)

The Libel Reform Campaign welcomes the government’s draft defamation bill as a good step in the right direction – but Parliament needs to go further in key areas … Dr Evan Harris of the Libel Reform Campaign: “Those campaigning for libel reform will want to see cross-party recognition that the draft bill is a welcome step forward, but also that it does not yet reflect the extent of full libel reform that is required to properly protect free expression.” (Index on Censorship)

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