Sunday, 16 June 2013

Belfast may lose 'libel capital of the world' title to Dublin, says Paul Tweed

I've discussed Paul Tweed twice before elsewhere, both here and here and the libel and media law specialist requires mention again.

On June 5 2013 Paul Tweed asked on the Huffington Post, Belfast or Dublin to Be the Next Libel Capital of the World? With the leader of the UUP working on his private members Bill which would bring legal parity with the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland's libel isolationism and the negatives and benefits it brings could be lost. Paul explains:
"Unfortunately, the newspaper had failed to show similar concern about the fact that Northern Ireland citizens have for many years been treated differently from their counterparts in the UK in terms of access to the libel Courts. Unlike the position in England, lawyers in Northern Ireland have in the past not been allowed to act on a "no win no fee basis", nor have After the Event (ATE) insurance premiums been recoverable, thereby making it even more difficult for the ordinary man on the street to obtain access to justice. 
However, the Belfast Telegraph and the various lobbying groups may ultimately get their way as a result of the possible introduction of a Private Members Bill following the lines of the new legislation for England and Wales. 
While it remains to be seen whether this more publisher friendly legislation will be imposed on the Province, including the requirement that corporations would have to show substantial financial losses in order to get a claim off the ground, the practical result will be that the "libel capital of the world" title may simply pass to Dublin, a two hour drive down the road from Belfast. 
Although changes to the libel law have recently been introduced in the Republic of Ireland, the financial cost for a Plaintiff contemplating proceedings still remains a significant deterrent. The Irish Defamation law is to a large extent a compromise between the previously existing and new UK legislation, but the Irish statute treats corporations on the same footing as individuals and retains trial by jury in defamation actions. Juries of course represent the last opportunity for citizens to vent their displeasure with the more rampant excesses of the tabloid press, and have been an important factor in maintaining the balance between freedom of expression and the right of the individual to protect his reputation."
Read Paul Tweed's piece in the Huffington Post in full here.

Another event demands attention: Paul Tweed recently featured on a London panel discussion hosted by Index on Censorship entitled, 'Caught in the web: how free are we online?' Coverage of the event can be seen here. Paul comments were summarised as the following:

"Belfast-based libel lawyer Tweed said that anonymity online enables speech that constitutes dangerous harassment. He argued that freedom of expression must be protected, but that controls are needed to prevent the undermining of reputation and privacy. He recounted examples from his practice of clients that are harassed and attacked on the web with very little recourse against “internet goliaths”. 
“There has to be a button to protect the man on the street”, Tweed said."
Read coverage of the Index on Censorship panel event here.

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