Justice secretary Kenneth Clarke commented on the publication of the defamation bill:

“The right to freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our constitution. It is essential to the health of our democracy that people should be free to debate issues and challenge authority – in all spheres of life, whether political, scientific, academic or any other.

“But freedom of speech does not mean that people should be able to ride roughshod over the reputations of others, and our defamation laws must therefore strike the right balance – between protection of freedom of speech on the one hand and protection of reputation on the other.

“There has been mounting concern over the past few years that our defamation laws are not striking the right balance, but rather are having a chilling effect on freedom of speech. This is particularly important for the coalition government which is committed to empowering the citizen so that those in authority are held properly to account. But, as reflected in the manifestos of all three parties prior to the general election, the consensus for reform goes much wider than this.

“We are pleased to be able to publish the government’s proposals for reform of the law on defamation for public consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny. Our core aim in preparing these provisions has been to ensure that the balance referred to above is achieved, so that people who have been defamed are able to take action to protect their reputation where appropriate, but so that free speech and freedom of expression are not unjustifiably impeded by actual or threatened libel proceedings.”