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Defamation: Reformers pleased as Government supports key bill

Those who want to see libel law reformed in the UK were left in a buoyant mood yesterday after the Government performed a U-turn and ended up supporting House of Lords proposals to prevent companies from suing individuals unless they can show that defamatory comments caused them genuine financial harm, reports The Independent.

The Government had announced on Monday that it would vote against House of Lords proposals to prevent big companies opposing critics by threatening dissent with costly litigation.

However, yesterday Justice Minister Helen Grant indicated that the Government has had a change of heart and is now considering supporting the idea so that it becomes law.

Academics had warned that unless the law was voted in, genuine criticism of powerful companies would be hindered again. The Government has also hinted that it will oppose a law that would prevent private companies that provide public services from suing.

The Independent highlights the scenario where a government-run prison could be criticised publically, but a privately run one would be beyond reproach, as the operators would be able to sue anyone who dare raise concerns.

Science writer Simon Singh told The Independent that he was disappointed with the Government's original stance. The British Chiropractic Association sued him after he questioned the value of the service they represent. The new law would prevent such a company from suing someone like him in future, unless they could prove genuine financial loss, something that he claims they would have been unable to do.

"My own case is not atypical. Lots of cases which people think are unfair and unreasonable have involved large companies suing individuals and corporations," he said.

Source:

Blow to freedom of speech as key libel reform the Defamation Bill is blocked (The Independent)