Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Northern Ireland left lagging behind Britain with antiquated libel laws

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton
Finance Minister Simon Hamilton

The Defamation Act 2013 is intended to reform the UK's outdated libel laws, considered by many to be among the most punitive in the world.

The Act aims to ensure a fair balance is struck between the right to freedom of expression and the protection of reputation.

It makes a number of substantive changes to the law of defamation. Supporters claim the legislation reverses the chilling effect previous libel laws had on freedom of expression and debate.

It is now in force in England and Wales, and to a lesser extent Scotland – but not Northern Ireland, after then Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson withdrew a paper he had prepared on the matter.

The Department of Finance said it had been working towards a legislative consent motion, but ran out of time.

Last year Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt began a Private Member's Bill aimed at bringing Northern Ireland's libel legislation into line with England and Wales's updated laws. However, the process is on hold after Finance Minister Simon Hamilton referred the issue to the Law Commission.

The commission is undertaking its own consultation and will advise the minister as to whether a new law is necessary.

Yesterday Andrew Scott, a representative from the Law Commission, said a consultation document would be published in the autumn, possibly early October, and would be followed by a 12-week public consultation.

The Libel Reform Group is leading the campaign to reform our libel laws, and wants to hear from people on the matter.

See www.libelreform.org for more information

NI's libel laws must be brought into line, says the cardiologist sued three times for telling truth about dangerous heart equipment 

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