Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Peers debate libel reform in Northern Ireland

As we reported here, today (February 25 2014) peers in the House of Lords considered libel reform in Northern Ireland by virtue of an amendment brought to the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill by Lord Lexden in committee.
David Pannick QC reiterated the bad smell coming from Northern Ireland. Lord Bew reiterated the intolerable problems facing the Northern Ireland judiciary by way of the old libel regime. 
Lord Empey made an important observation:
"There is the possibility that current events could take the issue outside the current Assembly's mandate. A consultation by law commission, on top of the consultation by Mike Nesbitt, on top of the consulatation made on the Defamation Act... What could be an easy solution could be kicked the can down the road… The easiest solution is for Stormont to deal with it itself… I sincerely hope that the pressure and sentiment expressed on both sides of the House will encourage an early resolution of this.  
We should encourage Assembly to implement legislative consent motion or take over the private member’s bill." 
Lord Alderdice warned that devolution was designed to encouraged cross-community decisions and to accomodate the particular problems facing Northern Ireland. But he explained that no reason had been given for the continuing delay. Simply an arbitrary decision that the exective is not going to go ahead with libel reform. He said that devolution isn't designed to allow arbitrary decisions without explanation.

Those speaking for the Northern Ireland government both stated that the matter was a devolved one. Article by the Newspaper Society, 'Lords Warn Northern Ireland Faces 'Pariah' Status After Executive's Defamation Act Refusal', here.

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