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We cannot let free speech be eroded - archaic libel laws impact free expression

We are writing as members of the advisory council of the Northern Ireland Libel Reform Campaign, a coalition of writers, academics, journalists, scientists, lawyers and bloggers concerned about the impact of Northern Ireland’s archaic libel laws on free expression.

The people of Northern Ireland do not enjoy the same right to free expression as people in England and Wales due to the fact that the law remains unreformed.

The Minister of Finance and Personnel, Simon Hamilton, cheered supporters of reform by requesting the Northern Ireland Law Commission to carry out an investigation into Northern Ireland’s libel law, including public consultation, and to issue a Report with its recommendations.

We understand that the commission has ready a draft of a consultation paper, but this has not been published. The reason for delay is unclear.

With the possible abolition of the commission at the end of March next year there is the real possibility that this avenue for reform (and the taxpayers’ money spent on it to date) will be squandered.

We urge Simon Hamilton and David Ford, the Minister for Justice (which has departmental responsibility for the Northern Ireland Law Commission), to work together to ensure that the commission may continue its work in this project and in particular to enable the commission to publish its consultation paper so that the people of Northern Ireland can let their views be known.

It should be possible for the commission to complete its work on the project after public consultation and publish a full report before it is wound down.

We cannot let free speech be eroded. The ministers must act.

GLENN PATTERSON

BERNARD FITZPATRICK

BRIAN GARRETT

PAUL CONNOLLY

BRIAN JOHN SPENCER

LYRA MCKEE

SILE LANE

JO GLANVILLE

MIKE HARRIS

DR TOM WOOLLEY

PROF COLM CAMPBELL

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