Libel law reform proposed by Liberal Democrat Lord Lester

The Press Gazette reports:

Human rights barrister Lord Lester has drawn up a defamation reform bill which he says has cross-party support and would be available to whoever wins next year’s general election.

According to the Sunday Times, the Lib Dem peer’s “moderate” bill would tackle the issues of libel tourism and the huge costs to publishers of cases brought under no win, no fee rules…

Lord Lester’s bill would:

  • Reform the no-win no-fee which makes the costs so high for publishers that they often settle just to minimise their risks.
  • End the rule whereby every time a web story is downloaded it counts as a new publication, and so the time limit starts again on a possible libel action.
  • Prevent foreigners from suing in the British courts unless they can demonstrate that they have suffered real harm in Britain.
  • Give publications a stronger public interest defence in libel cases.
  • End the cash damages for claimants, saying that in most cases an apology from the publication should suffice.

The second point – ending the idea that each new appearance of a web page counts as a new publication – would be a particularly welcome change to bring libel law up to date with the modern age. That, and also the last point, would also significantly reduce the risk for bloggers.

Libel law reform was debated at the Liberal Democrat conference in the autumn, as reported on Lib Dem Voice at the time.

There is much debate to be had over the details of Lord Lester’s libel law reform proposals, but perhaps the most important point is that genuine cross-party support makes these reforms a real possibility.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments and data you submit with them will be handled in line with the privacy and moderation policies.