Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Libel laws must be debated openly at Stormont

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt

Back in June, Lord Black, of the Telegraph Media Group, told the House of Lords that, "The [Northern Ireland] Executive's decision to cling to legislation from a world which has disappeared makes King Canute look perfectly reasonable."

He was referring to Stormont's failure to adopt the 2013 Defamation Act, which won cross-party support in Westminster.

It is even worse than he suspected. The Executive never even considered the issue.

Instead, a paper proposing that we come into line with the UK legislation was shuffled around the system until it fell out of time. The updated legislation requires a libel claimant to show "serious harm" to his, or her, reputation, not just hurt feelings, before suing, or refusing to accept a correction.

Limits are also placed on 'libel tourism', by which people who do not live here could use our courts to sue foreign publications which only sell a few copies in Northern Ireland, or are accessible on the internet.

That could stop outside media companies operating here and muzzle the local Press.

Next Thursday, Lord Black will be in Stormont at the launch of a consultation on a Private Member's Bill, introduced by Mike Nesbitt (left), to update our legislation in line with other regions.

This is an issue which should be openly debated on the floor of Stormont.

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