The UK’s Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has outlined plans to reform the UK’s libel laws, branding the current legislation an “international farce”. In a speech at the Institute for Government, Clegg announced the details of a draft Defamation Bill, due in Spring, which will include a new statutory defence for those speaking out in the public interest, “whether they be big broadcasters or the humble blogger”. He said the government also intends to clarify the law surrounding existing defences of fair comment and justification saying “We intend to provide a new statutory defence for those speaking out in the public interest” (for example doctors and scientists) “and to clarify the law around the existing defences of fair comment and justification.” And he also wants large corporations to show they have suffered substantial damage before they sue individuals and non-governmental organisations. Clegg said “My party spent years campaigning against the erosion of our civil liberties under Labour and now, in government, we are going to turn a page on that chapter; resurrecting the liberties we have lost; embarking on a mission to restore our great British freedoms.
Clegg also addressed a number of issues raised by the Libel Reform Campaign, including online defamation, the problem of so-called “libel tourism” and the high legal costs of proceedings in the UK saying “It is simply not right when academics and journalists are effectively bullied into silence by the prospect of costly legal battles with wealthy individuals and big businesses,” he said, “Nor should foreign claimants be able to exploit these laws, bringing cases against foreign defendants here to our courts – even if the connection with England is tenuous. “It is a farce – and an international embarrassment”. Last year a parliamentary select committee express horror that the US Congress has felt it necessary to legislate to protect their citizens from UK libel laws. The Coalition government has also published a consultation paper on proposals by Lord Justice Jackson to reform civil litigation funding in an attempt to “make costs more proportionate, more fair”.