"We may have achieved libel reform in England & Wales, but the battle to modernise libel law continues elsewhere in the UK. Can you help us?
As you may have read, the Northern Ireland Executive has not yet extended the Defamation Act 2013 into Northern Irish law. In fact, former finance minister Sammy Wilson MLA said he had "no plans to review the law on defamation in Northern Ireland" and told his Stormont colleagues that the threat to free speech was "just a lot of nonsense".
The Libel Reform Campaign has therefore been active in Northern Ireland, seeking to persuade politicians that reform is essential for free discourse in Northern Ireland and throughout the UK. In July, we gave evidence to the Finance & Personnel Committee at Stormont, and in September, we coordinated a letter to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister signed by dozens of leading authors from Northern Ireland, warning of the effect that a failure to legislate could have on culture: "The people of Northern Ireland will enjoy fewer free speech protections than fellow citizens in England and Wales."
Despite some politicians’ opposition to libel reform, there is still a strong chance we can persuade Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) to back a Defamation Act for Northern Ireland. The new DUP Finance Minister, Simon Hamilton MLA, has commissioned a report on the Defamation Act 2013 and whether it should be extended to Northern Ireland. He said: "I want to bring a fresh pair of eyes to this issue." Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionist Party Leader Mike Nesbitt MLA intends to bring forward a Private Member’s Bill. He has published a consultation on the issue, and the Libel Reform Campaign team spoke at the launch event in Stormont.
We urgently need the public to respond to Mr Nesbitt’s consultation, to tell MLAs that we need libel reform in Northern Ireland to ensure we do not have a two-tier libel system in the UK, where some citizens have fewer free speech protections than others. We do not want Belfast to become the libel capital of the world."
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 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."