Justice secretary Ken Clarke has let loose dramatic plans to revise Britain’s positively draconian libel laws.
As it stands, published material must prove beyond all reasonable doubt that it is in the right and explain how it is not libellous and damaging. Corporations and the moneyed are able to send legal teams in to threaten court action if they take a disliking to something – even the way it is phrased.
Many publications that are not nationals feel like they must back down as the court costs could potentially bankrupt them.
It has seen what Clarke calls “libel tourism”, which is when companies or individuals fight to dispute a case in the UK’s courts to exploit the system and warn off anyone from opinion, essentially if someone with enough money doesn’t like it, they can bring in a legal team.
The draft bill will offer statutory defences of of “truth” and “honest opinion,” says the BBC. Clarke reckons that the whole business of libel action, injunctions and superinjunctions is seedy indeed, having a “chilling effect” on debate and journalism.
“The right to speak freely and debate issues without fear of censure is a vital cornerstone of a democratic society,” he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg agreed, adding that the current laws are outdated and made it a piece of cake for the wealthy to “stifle fair criticism”.
“We cannot continue to tolerate a culture in which scientists, journalists and bloggers are afraid to tackle issues of public importance for fear of being sued,” Clegg added.
Labour’s shadow justice minister Rob Flello did warn that the bill will need to be looked over with a fine tooth comb, suggesting that it’s going to be difficult to bring laws up to date with new media.
Hoorah! Tala! and Goodbye! to the old lot – it’s good news for British journalism.
See Also Intel’s Guide to the European Press.