Monday, 10 February 2014

Mike Gilson on the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill

Libel reform in Northern Ireland is running over several rails.
  1. By Mike Nesbitt's Defamation (Northern Ireland) Bill whose public consultation received "overwhelming support."
  2. In September 2013 Simon Hamilton asked (here) that the Northern Ireland Law Commission cast a fresh pair of eyes over the decision to veto the Defamation Act 2013. They responded here in December 2013  to look into the issue and recommended a public consultation on the matter.
  3. By means of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, Westminster peers Lords Lexden, Bew and Black have intervened on the matter via London, ontop of the two prongs operating from Belfast.
The London Bill deals with a number of issues relating to Northern Ireland. But it contains an important amendment that would extend the Defamation Act 2013 to Northern Ireland. In response to this Bill, the editor of the Belfast Telegraph Mike Gilson wrote if it in an article here, 'Libel law reform will protect us all'. He said:

"Inexplicably the Stormont Executive failed last year to adopt this eminently sensible reform... While the rest of the United Kingdom has accepted the new Defamation Act, the libel law in Northern Ireland remains firmly rooted in legislation that was passed well before the arrival of the social media and the internet. The details of the legislative procedure here remain complex, but the bottom line is clear for the defenders of free speech – the Defamation Bill needs to be introduced as soon as possible to Northern Ireland... The danger is that Northern Ireland could become the new libel capital of Europe due to a lower threshold for proving one's case."
Mike Gilson added:
"This is not just a matter for those who work in the media but for everyone who uses modern technology to express his or her views, bearing in mind the prevailing law on libel in Northern Ireland."

Further reading:

For earlier post on the matter of libel reform in Northern Ireland, Simon Hamilton asked the Law Commission NI to "cast a fresh eye" over the Defamation Act 2013 here. Lawyer Tony Jaffa welcomed that Law Commission report here. The Law Commission has since said it recommends a public consultation into the new libel law regime here. Mike Nesbitt introduced new legislation here and explained why Northern Ireland needs libel reform here. Mike Harris said in January 2014 of the urgency to reform Northern Ireland libel law here. Mike Nesbitt's consultation found "overwhelming support" for libel reform in NI here. The BBC, News Letter and Belfast Telegraph respond to the "overwhelming support" here. The News Letter said it supported libel reform here. Peter Robinson said that he saw no point in libel reform here, and media lawyer Paul Tweed supported the Sammy Wilson veto here. The Stormont Committee found the libel reform was unnecessary here. Paul Connolly in the Belfast Telegraph and Lord Black backed reform here, 31 writers and poets called for libel reform here. His draft bill is here. David Pannick QC said here that an "unpleasant odour" was coming from Northern Ireland's libel laws. A doctor said here that the current libel laws in Northern Ireland had contributed to patient deaths. Mike Harris from Index on Censorship made representations before Stormont Committee on the need for libel reform in Northern Ireland, see here. Index's letter to the Stormont Committee can be readhere. Jo Glanville of English Pen slammed the Stormont libel veto here. Lord Bew said here that the NI libel laws were bad for academics and journalists. Lord Black said here that the libel veto puts jobs and investment at risk. Lord Lester opposed the libel veto here. The Ulster Business Magazine asked NI media lawyers Paul Tweed and Olivia O'Kane if people should be worried by Northern Ireland's libel isolationism here. A May 2013 analysis from this blog on the events surrounded libel reform in NI here. Sam McBride tweeted about the possible consequences of the libel veto here. As did Newton Emerson here. On the Libel Reform Campaign continuing its interest in Northern Ireland here. Mick Hume on Northern Ireland's libel laws as an execrable affront to freedom of expression here.

Mike Nesbitt wrote in the Belfast Telegraph on July 23 2013 here:
"In all my years in broadcast journalism, I was involved in very few cases of defamation, but, of those that did emerge, all involved the political classes. Indeed, they all involved the DUP: two were brought by elected representatives; the third by those offended by comments made by one of their senior members. So, should politicians declare an interest when commentating on the laws of defamation? They should certainly bear it in mind."
Lord Lester said (via Slugger O'Toole) here:
"I can’t think of any good reason to do that, unless it’s because politicians in Northern Ireland want to be able to sue newspapers more readily, which doesn’t seem to me to be a very good reason."

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