Sunday, 2 February 2014

SDLP, Alliance, UUP and Sinn Fein support libel reform

In the Belfast Telegraph of September 16 2013 here, the editor of that paper Mike Gilson welcomed the decision of Simon Hamilton to refer the Defamation Act 2013 to the NI Law Commission (we posted here). In that report he said:
"This is an important subject, and the UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and the Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay deserve credit for keeping up the pressure on this issue."
The News Letter reported in March 2013 here:
"The SDLP and Alliance Party have since said that they support the reform. And the SDLP said that the decision was not taken by the five-party Executive but by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness’ department."
The News Letter also reported:
Lord Lester (who initiated the libel law reform three years ago with a private member’s bill which won cross-party support and was then adopted by the Government) said that prospect was “clearly possible and would be of great benefit therefore to a section of the Northern Irish bar but it was in fact a Northern Irish case which made me decide that we had to do something about the law. That case was an infamous 2007 decision by a Belfast jury to find the Irish News guilty of a £25,000 libel for a restaurant critic’s scathing review of a west Belfast pizzeria.

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 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 read here. 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.

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, the Liberal Democrat architect of the new libel law, 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."
Lord Lester also said that the situation was in some ways similar to Stormont’s decision to retain the common law offence of ‘blasphemous libel’ after it was abolished in the rest of the UK.

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