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Friday, January 07, 2011

Overhauling libel laws

The announcement by Nick Clegg that the UK Coalition Government plan to overhaul the libel laws is very welcome.

The idea is to give academics, scientists and journalists greater protection from potentially ruinous legal action from people or companies who disagree with them. The Government also intend to put an end to “libel tourism,” where wealthy foreigners use English courts to sue over publications in their home country.

A Government Bill will be published in March which will set out new protections against libel actions, and making it harder to launch such actions:

Sources said that under the Bill, existing defences including “fair comment” will be clarified to make them stronger.

Charities, scientists and academics will also be allowed to use the public interest defence, which is currently restricted to journalists.

There will also be rules to prevent “trivial” legal actions, which could involve companies or individuals having to show much more clearly that a report or publication has caused them personal or financial harm.

Mr Clegg will pledge that the Coalition’s measures will prevent foreign claimants bringing cases against foreign defendants in the English courts when their connection with England is “tenuous”.

“We believe claimants should not be able to threaten claims on what are essentially trivial grounds. We are going to tackle libel tourism. And we’re going to look at how the law can be updated to better reflect the realities of the internet,” Mr Clegg will say.

He will also commit the Coalition to addressing the high costs of defamation proceedings, reviewing “no win – no fee” agreements that allow complainants to launch actions without immediate financial cost.

This is yet another strand of the Liberal Democrat civil liberties agenda that we have brought to the coalition and shows that our influence remains high.
The UK Coalition Government could look at the 'Times Sullivan' malice/standard'.


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