Wednesday, 29 January 2014

"Overwhelming support" for libel reform

The public consultation into the reform of libel laws in Northern Ireland has received "overwhelming support" says Mike Nesbitt. Over 90% of responses to his public consultation backed changing the law. The public's response was stronger than the UK-wide consultation by the Ministry of Justice on the Defamation Act 2013. On the need for libel reform Mike Nesbitt stressed the special need Northern Ireland has for a robust, curious and unfettered press:
"This is about protecting freedom of speech in Northern Ireland. This is particularly important to us, because our current system of government means we do not have a second chamber, like the Lords in London, who scrutinise and revise legislation coming out of the Commons. Nor do we have an official opposition, a role performed to a large extent by the media.
Mike Nesbitt highlighted the problems faced by the press in Northern Ireland:
"Many members of [the media] tell me they face regular threats of legal action for defamation from a particular local political party. 
Mike Nesbitt said:
"To my mind, this reform is essential. The libel laws are so old they pre-date the internet, which is now the primary source of information for so many of our citizens. Inexplicably, Sammy Wilson dismissed the idea of extending the new law to Northern Ireland, without even consulting his executive colleagues, never mind the assembly. 
The result is that Northern Ireland is currently a place apart within the United Kingdom, and not in a good way. Our people - all our people - are at a disadvantage, because of the far-reaching implications of operating laws that are different to England and Wales."
Finance minister Simon Hamilton has referred libel law reform to the Northern Ireland Law Commission, see earlier posts here and here. First Minister Peter Robinson still supports the original veto of London's libel reform, see here. The News Letter supports libel reform, see here. Mike Harris of Index on Censorship has written recently on the Inforrm blog here of the urgent need to reform NI libel laws. The latest on the Defamation Act here.

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