Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Libel lawyer Tweed: I didn't lobby Sammy Wilson to stymie legislation

Leading libel lawyer Paul Tweed

THE Lords debate comes just one day after a leading Belfast libel lawyer denied lobbying Finance Minister Sammy Wilson to block British libel reforms extending to Northern Ireland.

Paul Tweed faced Stormont's finance committee on Wednesday and said he has never even spoken to or met Mr Wilson.

Last year, the Finance Minister blocked the Westminster Bill which would strengthen protection of free speech for journalists, bloggers, scientists and others coming to the Assembly.

Mr Tweed has said it should be made easier, not harder, to sue for defamation.

Ulster Unionist Party leader and former UTV journalist Mike Nesbitt is championing reform on defamation.

During the committee meeting he said there had been a "shocking lack of consultation within the Executive... never mind with interested bodies and the public" when the bill was stopped in its tracks coming across the water.

The issue wasn't brought to the Executive after Mr Wilson blocked it in 2012.

Mr Nesbitt said the bill would encourage freedom of speech and responsible journalism.

The Strangford MLA also said the wealthy and the powerful are using current libel laws in an attempt to "control the media".

He claimed there were many legal letters from "people like Paul Tweed which we never knew about" which had a big impact on editorial decisions being taken.

Mr Tweed said he opposed the bill based on the fact it was "wrong" not because he was "some greedy lawyer trying to line his pockets." He denied any sort of lobbying behaviour.

"I've never met Mr Wilson; I've never spoken to him".

He said the first time he had heard of the Finance Minister's decision was when he read it in a newspaper earlier this year.

He slammed warnings that Belfast could become the global libel capital if changes came into place, saying they were "totally misconceived".

The UUP leader told the committee he knew Mr Tweed both socially and professionally, and had asked him to send a letter to someone who had made allegations about him on the internet.

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