The House of Lords have passed the Defamation Act, after a three-year campaign calling for the reform of Britain’s libel laws. On Tuesday last week, peers voted by a majority of 78 to pass the legislation, and the Act gained Royal Assent on Thursday. The new Act will help to protect free speech, as well as end London’s status as the ‘libel capital of the world’. The British Humanist Association (BHA) welcomes this news.
The passage of the Defamation Act represents the fruition of a three-year campaign to reform the libel laws, which was led by Lord McNally and Lord Lester. The Act obliges libel claimants to justify their claims by providing evidence that they are likely to suffer financial loss as a result of the accusation made against them. The pressure for reform grew out of the outrage at repeated examples of libel bullying against doctors, scientists, bloggers and human rights campaigners. For example, the Science writer (and BHA Distinguished Supporter) Simon Singh was sued by the British Chiropractic Association, after writing an article criticising various claims made about the effectiveness of chiropractic treatment. As well as supporting Simon in that legal case, the BHA also briefed Lords before the first Parliamentary debate on libel reform in 2010.
BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal commented ‘We are delighted at the passage of the Defamation Act, which represents a huge step forward for freedom of speech in this country. Before the legislation was introduced, libel reform had not been debated in Parliament since 1843, so reform was very long overdue indeed. Under the previous system, journalists, human rights campaigners and scientists risked being censored and being hit with huge legal costs, just for speaking out on issues of public concern. The passage of the new Act will instead create a more liberated atmosphere in which issues of public controversy can be openly debated without the threat of legal action.’
For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0773 843 5059.
The Guardian – Lords pass defamation bill: http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2013/apr/23/lords-pass-defamation-bill
Details of the Defamation Act at Parliament.uk: http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2012-13/defamation.html
BHA briefs Lords ahead of debate on libel law reform: http://humanism.org.uk/2010/07/09/news-431-2/
BHA welcomes news on libel case: http://humanism.org.uk/2010/04/15/news-142-7/
The BHA’s work on freedom of expression: http://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/human-rights-and-equality/free-speech-and-expression/
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.
Head of Public Affairs, British Humanist Association
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