New Christmas appeal by Libel Reform campaign


11:01 am - December 21st 2011

by Robert Sharp    


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The Libel Reform Campaign has launched a new appeal for Christmas, with the catchy you-can-almost-sing-it title, ‘All We Want For Christmas Is Libel Reform‘.

The libel laws of England & Wales are, you will recall, in dire need of reform.  They barely take account of hot-type printing presses, let alone the internet. 

High costs allow rich people and multi-national corporations to bully doctors, scientists and investigative journalists into silence; while the same high costs mean that wealthy media barons can smear ordinary people with impunity.  The ‘Reynolds Defence’ for responsible journalism is inadequate, and the distinction between ‘opinion’ and ‘fact’ is unclear.

On Liberal Conspiracy, we’ve covered several examples of people using libel to silence criticism. 

Regular contributor Dave Osler had to fend off an unfounded libel action in 2010. 

Blogger Vaughan Jones has been sued for libel after posting a review on Amazon.co.uk.  The costs incurred by Dr Ben Goldacre, Simon Singh and Dr Peter Wilmshurst, forced to defend solid scientific opinions through the High Court, are well documented.

All three of the major political parties pledged libel reform in their manifestos; and the Ministry of Justice have produced a draft Bill, which parliament has scrutinised at length

There is no good reason why Libel Reform should not be in the next Queen’s Speech. Let’s get this sorted now.

http://libelreform.org/one-click/

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About the author
Robert Sharp designed the Liberal Conspiracy site. He is Head of Campaigns at English PEN, a blogger, and a founder of digital design company Fifty Nine Productions. For more of this sort of thing, visit Rob's eponymous blog or follow him on Twitter @robertsharp59. All posts here are written in a personal capacity, obviously.
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Reader comments


This should be such a no-brainer I can’t see why it hasn’t been carried through already.

Can anyone present even a half-arsed argument against Libel Reform? Anyone who isn’t a quack, or a lawyer representing quacks, that is?

Well, nearly 4 hours and nobody has risen to that challenge.

Is this the one thing everyone on LibCon agrees upon?

Must be Christmas…

3. Monty Fiddle-Hooty

OK, I understand this is a post gunning for a specific objective, but some things in here are less than honest. Ooh, a libel-friendly term. Anyway, top of that list:

“The costs incurred by Dr Ben Goldacre, Simon Singh and Dr Peter Wilmshurst, forced to defend solid scientific opinions through the High Court, are well documented.”

Very well documented indeed. The rule that the winner of any given case is owed costs by the loser is also very well documented – was this rule waived for any of the battles you have mentioned? There is a problem of the costs which are owed up-front while the case is being fought, but hey, that’s a problem with all litigation, not just libel. CFAs for libel defence would do the trick, but you can understand why yer average defendant and his lawyers wouldn’t really be up for it.

“while the same high costs mean that wealthy media barons can smear ordinary people with impunity”

Rubbish. As I’ve already mentioned: CFAs. Carter-Ruck, the bane of journalists, bloggers… well, of everyone ever, really, are a big fan of them. Point these ordinary people their way.

“The ‘Reynolds Defence’ for responsible journalism is inadequate, and the distinction between ‘opinion’ and ‘fact’ is unclear.”

Two bald claims with nothing to back them up. Come on. Why should I believe you?

I do actually agree that libel needs a re-think, but I also think that Libel Reform need to think things through a bit. Tinkering with it too much could effectively gut it of any force or effectiveness whatsoever. You mentioned media barons smearing ordinary folk; if you make libel less scary to media organisations, do you really think this won’t happen more and more?

In short: enough broad, sweeping statements, a bit more serious analysis. Simon Singh’s articles in the Graun arguing for libel reform tend to be stuffed with factual inaccuracies, for what it’s worth (libel less stringent in Europe, where it’s often a criminal offence? libel laws nicer in Australia, where they’re by and large identical to English ones?). Besides, Libel Reform might also want to pick some different targets. The Goldacre and Simon Singh cases? Oh yeah, two cases where the defendants actually won and got their costs back? Big deal.

Reform them? Abolish them! Let people say what they want,and then the onus to prove they’re right will be on them, not the targets.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    New Christmas appeal by Libel Reform campaign http://t.co/b32Qra76

  2. robertsharp59

    RT @libcon: New Christmas appeal by Libel Reform campaign http://t.co/7oBqV8hG <- Yrstruly doing his bit for #LibelReform

  3. English PEN

    New Christmas appeal by Libel Reform campaign http://t.co/b32Qra76

  4. Lydia Prieg

    New Christmas appeal by Libel Reform campaign http://t.co/b32Qra76

  5. Rowan Emslie

    Yes please cc @bathimpact RT @libcon: New Christmas appeal by Libel Reform campaign http://t.co/N29j3VS0

  6. dave m

    New Christmas appeal by Libel Reform campaign http://t.co/b32Qra76

  7. richardbrennan

    New Christmas appeal by Libel Reform campaign | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/rLPtyU31 via @libcon

  8. Vaughan Jones

    http://t.co/EEA2RtvH #LibelReform continues

  9. Nanny

    http://t.co/EEA2RtvH #LibelReform continues

  10. Nanny

    RT @libcon: New Christmas appeal by Libel Reform campaign http://t.co/isuKc8cX





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