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UK government to review libel law

UK government to review libel law

In an effort to cut down on "libel tourism" and better protect freedom of speech for media outlets and those working in the research sector, the UK government will review its laws as part of a libel reform campaign, MediaGuardian reported today.

The government is looking to introduce a bill soon, and today the Ministry of Justice announced it will conduct a consultation over the summer, and put a draft defamation bill before Parliament early next year, according to the Press Association.

"In reviewing the law we want to focus on ensuring that freedom of speech and academic debate are protected and a fair balance is struck between freedom of expression and the protection of reputation," Justice Minister Lord McNally said, according to the PA article published by the Independent. "We want to ensure that the right balance is achieved so people who have been defamed are able to take action to protect their reputation but so that freedom of speech is not unjustifiably impeded."

Journalists, academics and people in the scientific community who want to write reports that may be viewed as unfavourable to their subjects or third parties are usually subjected to threats from accusers who know the current libel laws are on their side, as the burden of proof rests on the defendant.

Individuals outside the United Kingdom often choose to sue in UK courts because of these laws. The practice is called "libel tourism," the Telegraph reported.

In the United States, for example, several states have passed laws that make rulings from English libel courts difficult to enforce, and Congress is considering following. Meanwhile, a group of foreign newspapers and news groups, including The Associated Press, Bloomberg, Fairfax Media Limited and The New York Times, in December sent a statement to the English House of Commons stating that some U.S. newspapers are considering blocking access to their sites in England.


Leah McBride Mensching


2010-07-10 02:42

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