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Sadiq Khan MP, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, commenting on today’s second reading of the Defamation Bill, said:
“We welcome attempts to update and modernise our outdated defamation law, building on the groundwork done by Labour when in government. Today’s Bill is a product of the hard work of many people over a number of years, including the dedication of groups such as the Libel Reform Campaign who’ve consistently called for an updated libel law.
“It’s right that we drag defamation law into the 21st century. Getting the balance right between freedom of speech and protection of reputation is important. Our defamation laws have not kept pace with the changing nature of society and London has become the libel capital of the world. Our laws have had a chilling effect on scientists, academics and investigative journalists. We have been working with the Government, on a cross party basis, to get a Bill to address this.
“We welcome the objectives of the Bill and many of the provisions including the requirement of ‘serious harm’ to a claimant and the defences available in the future to those facing a defamation claim. We do, however, have some concerns.
“Its right that anonymous internet "trolling" is addressed, but the details of this aren’t actually in the Bill. We’re not able to know exactly how the Government intend this to operate in practice or to ensure that genuine whistle blowers aren’t outed. The Government should be publishing the details now rather than regulations in the future so that MPs have a chance to properly scrutinise these.
“Defamation law should not only be an option for the wealthy. Due to recent damaging changes made by this Government to “no-win, no-fee cases”, we are very concerned that access to justice has been undermined for those wishing to bring forward defamation. This is a concern shared by the McCann and Dowler family as well as others.
“We fear that the Bill may in the final analysis have a less positive impact on the costs of defending cases or the time it takes for cases to be heard than was anticipated. An opportunity has been lost to further reduce the costs of defamation cases through increasing the power of judges to manage cases and alternatives to litigation.
“As a result, we’ll be urging the Government to listen to the suggestions of expert groups and to revisit the recommendations of the Joint Committee that considered the draft Bill, in order to ensure the final output is a Bill which will truly modernise and update our antiquated defamation laws.”