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Defamation Bill returns to the House of Commons

The Prime Minister David Cameron announced 18th March 2013 that “The Defamation Bill will proceed. Its clauses relating to the Leveson report will be reversed by all three parties voting together, so it can now go through the House.”

The Defamation Bill is coming back to the House of Commons on Tuesday 16th April. This return is undoubtedly down to all your letters to MPs and the Prime Minister which have made it clear why the Defamation Bill matters. Thank you so much for taking up the cause so actively.

On Tuesday 16th MPs will debate the amendments the House of Lords made to the Defamation Bill and decide whether to accept the changes or not.

The Bill contains important and welcome changes to the stifling and ruinously expensive libel laws. But it still has some unnecessary complexity that could be abused by litigants wishing to censor legitimate free speech. We are asking MPs to make these small changes to the Bill:

Corporations

This amendment introduces a new clause that places some restrictions on corporations and other non-natural persons’ ability to use the libel laws. Currently corporations can use the inequality of arms between them and individuals to bully critics into silence. This new clause stipulates that corporations must show actual financial harm before they can start a libel suit. It also prevents private companies performing public functions from suing for libel which would bring them in line with restrictions already placed on public bodies.

Public Interest Defence

This clause is unclear and therefore brings a risk of protracted and expensive litigation. A small change from “the defendant reasonably believed” to “the defendant could reasonably have decided” to publish would reduce this risk and deliver the clear, simple law the Government has promised.

Operators of Website

The clause needs to be amended so that it is not in conflict with existing E-Commerce regulations.

We support the new clause the Lords added on non-natural persons which introduces a higher hurdle for corporations that wish to sue for defamation because currently corporations can use the inequality of arms between them and individuals to bully critics into silence.

You can read more detail in the Libel Reform Campaign briefing that we sent to MPs.

The Bill is reaching its final stage in parliament. After MPs consider Lords amendments the Bill will ‘ping pong’ between both Houses until Lords and MPs agree on all the details.