Jack Straw Proposes a Reform to Libel Law

The UK libel laws are ridiculous and politicians are waking up to the fact.

The Times reports:

A new “public interest” defence for responsible journalism will be included in reforms to be brought forward if Labour wins the election.

Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, said that ministers were convinced” that libel law reform in England and Wales was needed amid concern that existing legislation had a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression….

Mark Stephens, a media lawyer with Finers Stephens Innocent, said: “We like to think of ourselves as an advanced liberal democracy, but these are welcome and much needed reforms go some way towards addressing the concerns expressed by the UN Human Rights Committee Concluding Observations, as to the UK’s failure to comply with international minimum standards of free speech.”

The Daily Mail reports that Jack Straw said yesterday:

‘Our libel laws need to achieve a fair balance between allowing people to protect their reputations from defamatory allegations, and ensuring that freedom of expression and the public’s right to know on matters of public interest are not unnecessarily impeded.

‘At the moment, we believe that the balance is tilted too much in favour of the former. The changes will redress this imbalance.’

An editorial in The Times concludes on Jack Straw’s reforms:

These reforms would help restore the reputation of British justice in a field that has earned this country’s legal system fierce criticism overseas. Equality before the law is the hallmark of a fair legal system. Yet wealthy claimants can use their resources to prevent publication merely with the threat of the punitive costs of a defence. The state of libel law is not even a lottery, but a low farce. The next Parliament must reform it.

Jack of Kent, the blog that has been at the forefront of reporting on the Simon Singh case, informs us that Simon receives his judgement tomorrow. We wish him luck. This libel madness has to stop.